There Will Be Blood (2007)
★★★★ / ★★★★
I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people… There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking.
Given the choice between money and family, Daniel Plainview is the kind of man who would choose the former almost as an involuntary reaction. It isn’t because Daniel is incapable of feeling love or affection; he simply prefers to make money because, unlike people, money does not disappoint, it requires no guessing game when it comes to its motivation or intent, it does not tell or ask Daniel what to do, it simply is. Like the air we breathe.
This is made resoundingly clear when the prospector, whose business involves stripping the land of its natural resources, namely oil, must decide whether to stay with his injured and utterly terrified son or to run to the derrick and help to put out the gas blowout. This is a man hardwired to perform two tasks: make as much money as possible and minimize the loss of it. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson observes with a most perspicacious eye.
Daniel Plainview is played by Daniel Day-Lewis whose talent is put to terrific use during stretches of long silences when the character is left to deal with his indefatigable thoughts, repressed guilt, and seething anger. We look into those eyes and we wonder about the circumstances in Plainview’s life that turned him into a vehicle of greed. Because the screenplay is elegant and subtle, there are no flashbacks to be had—the story begins in 1898 and we work our way up to 1927 when it ends. There is no weary narration that can be employed as a clutch either.
Instead, we explore by carefully noting which situations, topics of conversation, and personalities that tend to get under our protagonist’s skin. And because Day-Lewis’ eyes are constantly telling a story, it is an enjoyable challenge to sort through numerous possibilities. A ticklish consideration: Is our evaluation of the oilman, whose journey possesses the hallmarks of the so-called American Dream, a reflection of us? A case can be made that children of modern society are more or less a product of capitalism. Thus, is it inevitable that we judge this character from the prism of privilege? After all, life a hundred years ago was an entirely different terrain.
Regardless, the picture’s assured pacing is demonstrable. There is not one wasted moment. Information can always be gleaned, whether from what is expressed outright or merely implied; from utter silence or slight pause; how the physical distance between subjects and camera reflects how characters feel toward one another; how Jonny Greenwood’s score is harnessed and utilized to knock us off-balance. Clearly, those who have a penchant for looking deeply will be rewarded beyond surface entertainment.
Indelible images abound. How silver is mined from the earth. A proud-looking boy unaware he is being used as prop so that the oilman can be regarded as a family man. The aforementioned gas blowout and the flame that shoots into the sky as day turns night and back again. A jaw-dropping murder attempt involving fire as folks sleep. On separate occasions, two con artists being forced into the earth. A well-deserved humiliation in a bowling alley.
The film is also darkly comic. In particular, it is critical of religion as a concept, the hypocritical leaders, and the mindless sheep that follow. Events that cannot be explained or things that are out of one’s control are left for God to determine or decide. Coincidences or bad luck cannot be left as they are; they must be interpreted as messages that only the most faithful can accurately decipher. The insanity of the charade is underscored by hyperbolic dialogue and performances. So, in a way, the picture summons laughter—and bewilderment—as a means of exorcizing what must be purged. This is a bold and unforgettable piece of work.