It took time for me to come around to this film, but now that I have I’ll hesitatingly label it an essential movie, a future classic. I’ve been a big Anderson fan for some time but I first only appreciated this one as a technical marvel to experience, preferring the tone of Boogie Nights, the slightly crazy brilliance of Magnolia… Now however I can say that There Will Be Blood poses a serious challenge to Magnolia as being Anderson’s best work, not just because of Day Lewis’ thunderous performance, but because the film around him crackles with an intensity and drive that few modern films can rival.
Lets start with Daniel Day Lewis. There is no doubt that his performance here deserved to win the Academy Award that year. His portrayal of Daniel Plainview utterly commands the screen; his presence is so great that it’s sometimes hard to remember that there is anyone else in the film, especially so as I’m pretty sure he appears in every scene of the movie. But of course there are others here, the most notable being Paul Dano whose performance as a enthusiastic priest I actually enjoyed, although I am aware that many people accused him of overacting and not being a powerful enough rival to Day Lewis’ Plainview. I disagree, the movie is essentially about the clash of the two men’s personalities and ideologies and Day Lewis’ meticulous approach, his towering performance wouldn’t work if it is matched against something similar. The film needs Dano’s quieter (mostly) and looser acting approach in order for there to be real conflict.
There is very little to criticise about the look and sound of the film too. Visually it is magnificent at times, particularly during the film’s big set piece, a scene which also provides a fantastic example of the movie’s score fully coming into play and filling you with a primal sense of dread and anticipation. Greenwood’s work here is kinetic and one of the best we have heard for years. It takes every scene of fear, dread and vulnerability and ramps up their power considerably. Frankly the movie just wouldn’t be half as powerful without it.
Ebert says in his review that There Will Be Blood exceeds its reach, a statement which I completely disagree with. It strikes me too as ‘the kind of film that is easily called great’ but I believe that it actually manages to achieve that greatness which it so easily acquires the label of. The ‘unbending characters’ are crucial to the story’s narrative drive, and we witness the strain which that has upon the characters, the film and upon us as an audience. Plainview and Dano’s Eli may not twist and turn through multiple emotional narratives, but theirs is excellently set up and maintained throughout. I also have to respond to Ebert suggesting that the film’s ending goes beyond its own reach; it has the same kind of ending as Magnolia‘s. One which resists the expected and formulaic endings which we are so used to seeing, instead perfectly closing the movie in the most organic way that best serves the film. There Will Be Blood may not be your average movie, it is long, intense and often fairly relentless – and that is exactly why you have to see it. It’s an essential movie.
What is the film’s greatest strength? Tough call but I’ll have to go with Day-Lewis. That opening deserves a shout out too though!
Its greatest weakness? Does it have to be quite so long?
Would I see it again? Absolutely. It seems very likely to impress me even more upon another rewatch.
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