2/02/2008

There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Blood certainly lives up to its title, both metaphorically and literally. Blood is shed, to be sure, but blood comes in many forms, be it the life-giving crimson liquid pumping through our veins, or the ties that bind families, blood-related or otherwise. The movie is a fascinating character study of a turn-of-the-century oilman, played by Daniel Day-Lewis with his usual explosive intensity. He is, without a doubt, the finest method actor working today. Day-Lewis completely disappears inside his characters, whether he's playing a Mohican Indian or a vicious New York butcher, and Daniel Plainview, the would-be oil baron, is no different.

Paul Thomas Anderson, whose previous films include the porn industry epic, Boogie Nights, and Punch-Drunk Love, for which he coaxed from Adam Sandler his finest performance to date, has crafted a dark (and darkly humorous), complex story about a country's descent into capitalism and godlessness, and the type of men who would let nothing stand between them and their fortunes.

Very loosely based on a novel by Upton Sinclair, There Will Be Blood follows Plainview on his journey from silver miner to oil prospector. He travels the West, going to potentially oil-rich counties and, with a little help from a young son he acquired after a drilling accident, talks people into selling him their land so he can dig for oil. One day, a young man comes to see Plainview, and the young man tells him about his family's ranch in California, in a town called Little Boston, where oil is seeping up from the ground. Plainview gives the young man $500 for this information and heads west to verify the young man's claim.

Plainview indeed finds oil in Little Boston and proceeds to buy up all the land in the area. He comes into contact with the twin brother of the young man who sent him there, Eli Sunday (Paul Dano, in a wonderfully devious performance), an evangelical preacher who has dollar signs as well as Jesus in his heart. What follows is a visceral, volatile struggle for both their souls and, perhaps, the soul of a nation.

Greed, God and oil, the very ideals America was built on.

Shot by Roger Deakins, who also served as director of photography on No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood looks absolutely amazing. Never has America looked so beautifully bleak as it does in these two films. Deakins has such a masterful eye for framing and lighting a movie, even the most innocuous of images carries such weight and gravitas. When an oil well catches fire and the flame shoots up and engulfs the oil derrick, it's simply an incredible sight to behold, the orange and red flames roaring against a darkening sky.

I won't go so far as to say There Will Be Blood was the best movie of 2007. That honor still belongs to the grim, desolate violence of No Country for Old Men, in my ever-so-humble estimation. But it's certainly one of the top movies of the year, and perhaps one of the best of the last several years. It's by far Paul Thomas Anderson's finest film, an American Gothic epic for the 21st century.

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