Overview: An independent oil man explores his prospects amid the backdrop of early 1900’s California. Paramount Vantage/Miramax Films; 2007; Rated R; 158 Minutes.
Visual Storytelling: There Will Be Blood begins with fourteen minutes of wordless, character-building genius. Director Paul Thomas Anderson sets the stage for the compelling character Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) with no dialogue, a few sharp notes of score, and effective visual storytelling of the origins of Plainview’s success in oil. In those quiet and deliberate minutes, Anderson sets Plainview up as a character immediately deserving of the audience’s investment and draws us in to where his journey will take him. It is a textbook example of how to tell a story only using score, cinematography, and physical acting to say more than words ever could.
The Acting: Daniel Day-Lewis gives arguably the best performance of his career as Plainview. There is a certain hypnotic aura to Day-Lewis’ screen presence and the cadence of his voice. A hint of dastardly evil is obvious, but through most of the film, it is hard to pin down exactly what that evil is or where it resides in Plainview. Day-Lewis has a way of making his characters exist outside of the constraints of the picture. The viewer feels like Plainview is a person they actually met and followed, not simply a character portrayed on screen. It is a very unique talent, and it’s never been displayed better than here.
Sitting in the towering shadow of Day-Lewis is an admirable display from Paul Dano (Eli Sunday). Were it not for Day-Lewis’ transcendent (and Academy Award winning) performance, Dano’s would be more highly regarded in larger circles. Dano provides several of the film’s most memorable scenes, some of them shared with Day-Lewis. There is the scene where Sunday expels a religious ghost from his chapel with a crazed display, the scene where Sunday forces Plainview to admit that “he abandoned his child” in front of Sunday’s congregation, and finally the iconic “milkshake” scene.
The Score and Cinematography: Jonny Greenwood (of the band Radiohead) composed an original orchestral score for the film. It is razor-sharp, malevolent, and unequivocally brilliant. The unorthodox nature, mix of instruments, and masterful tone of the score complements the underlying sinister nature of Plainview’s character well. In addition to Greenwood’s score, cinematographer Robert Elswit helps shape and strengthen the form of the film. Elswit won an Academy Award here for his work, which is diagrammed, measured, and calculated cinematography genius.
Twenty-First Century Masterpiece: There is a small debate to be had, but There Will Be Blood stands, for me, as the singular greatest film of the Twenty-First Century so far. It excels in all aspects of filmmaking. From the direction, to the cinematography, acting, scoring and production design, the film reaches a level of quality that is rarely achieved in cinema. Paul Thomas Anderson has assembled a filmmaking tour-de-force that will be revered for decades to come as the contemporary gold standard and the modern-American epic.