By STEPHANIE BREIJO
It begins with an obsession. The greedy thwacking of Daniel Day-Lewis’ pick against an ominous mineshaft fills “There Will Be Blood’s” audience and no-words-needed opening with the same captivation that drives its protagonist.
In the most recent of American entrepreneurial plotlines since “Citizen Cane,” director Paul Thomas Anderson pulls from frighteningly realistic performances and gruesome detail to create the surface-barren oil fields of 20th-century Southern California.
But true to Anderson form, the road to entrapment is a long one. With a run time of over two and a half hours, “There Will Be Blood” slowly draws audiences through the life of the enterprising Daniel Plainview in an epic that leaves jaws on the floor after hours of murder, vengeance and above all, villainous fixation.
Even at the film’s 1898 beginning, Plainview’s collision with the bottom of a mineshaft doesn’t stop him from a desperate search for silver ore. As the years progress and Plainview’s passion becomes oil, the stakes climb for the driven tycoon.
To increase his chances as a businessman, Plainview adopts a former employee’s son H.W., played by young’un Dillon Freasier, in an attempt to maintain a “family man” appearance. When Plainview and H.W. head west for oil prospects, they encounter the dominating fire-and-brimstone preacher Eli Sunday, played masterfully by Paul Dano of “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Fast Food Nation.”
In a mutual understanding that drives the majority of the film’s dramatic clashing, Sunday sees through Plainview’s promises of communal success just as Plainview sees through Sunday’s theatrical sermons.
Nothing seems more natural in this high-stakes dynamic as both Dano and Day-Lewis breathe heavy, bloodthirsty life into not only the competitive showmen they play, but into the film itself.
H.W. also affects Plainview, though the showman would scarcely let the boy believe it. Adopted as a gimmick, H.W. serves the cinematic purpose of the humanity that potentially lies in the entrepreneur, if only visible through Plainview’s greed. The boy functions as both a business associate and the only string of humanity tied to the tycoon throughout the majority of the film, as well as a heartbreaking hindrance that Plainview can never quite accept.
As P.T. Anderson’s first film in five years, “There Will Be Blood,” based on Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel “Oil!,” leaves little to be craved, fulfilling audience members with the merciless spectacle they had hoped for during the writer-director’s half-decade hibernation.
Anderson’s style is detailed, with clear parallels of both Plainview and violence to oil. Visually, it’s stunning—in a frightening closeup of Day-Lewis covered in oil, Anderson blends Plainview’s oil-hidden face into the blackness of the night, blurring the lines between Plainview’s humanity and his obsession. As a character is bludgeoned to death, black oil-like blood oozes slowly from underneath the body.
Anderson’s detail also carries through the music scored by Radiohead’s lead guitarist, Jonny Greenwood. Scathing, sharp violins and ambient noise add eeriness to an already nerve-racking film. To echo the loneliness of H.W.’s silent realm, a muffled Day-Lewis speaks incoherently; shortly after he leaves the frame, the subtle closing of a door resonates as H.W. looks off into the distance, alone.
To see this film is to be emotionally pummeled by both acts of animalistic violence and such stunning blows dealt from one character to the next that it could be nothing less than a P.T. Anderson film. The dialogue is so artfully straightforward that each word uttered by the magnificent Day-Lewis delivers one thousand blows to his opponent and leaves audience members stunned by his harsh simplicity. But be warned, this film is not for the weak of heart (read: stomach). Between graphic, sudden deaths and what seems like unjust bleakness, “There Will Be Blood” is a work of morbid genius and a confident return for Anderson.