There Will Be Blood – Revisited

I drink your milkshake!  Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece is now on DVD.

Review by John C. Snider © 2008

As I reported back in January, There Will Be Blood is a movie that every thinking person should see.  In a cinematic world dominated by remakes, rip-offs and path-of-least-resistance filmmaking, Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece is both refreshing and challenging.

There Will Be Blood only saw limited release; therefore, a great many cinephiles did not have an opportunity to see it.  But now Paramount has released this film on DVD.

It’s the story of Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis, in an Oscar-winning performance), a misanthropic oil man who scratches his way to financial success in early 20th century California.  Accompanied by his stoic pre-teen son H. W. (Dillon Freasier), Plainview travels up and down the state, prospecting and buying up land from poor farmers, trying to stay one step ahead of the big oil companies.

Plainview’s quest leads him to Little Boston, a dusty outpost inhabited by goat farmers, and dominated by a slick young evangelical named Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), who has founded the Church of the Third Revelation to fleece his ignorant, hopeless flock.  In Plainview, Eli meets a man impervious to his spiritual chicanery; in Eli, Plainview encounters a potential rival for power and a stumbling block to his industrial ambitions.  Their struggle can brook no compromise – thus the title of the film.

Make no mistake: There Will Be Blood will be one of the handful of films from the 2000’s that people will still be talking about 10 or 20 years from now.  Everything about it is epic (dare I say Biblical?).  Daniel Day-Lewis won an Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Daniel Plainview, with his cadenced John Huston voice and eyes sparkling with suppressed hatred.  Paul Dano rises to the challenge as Day-Lewis’s rival (and let’s face it, most actors would be completely dominated by Day-Lewis’s infamous intensity).  There are scenes between these two that are so over-the-top they threaten to unhinge the movie altogether.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s script features some amazing dialogue, including lines lifted from the Upton Sinclair novel Oil! and even (for the hilarious “I drink your milkshake speech) the Congressional Record.  But the film doesn’t rely solely on clever dialogue – the first 15 minutes shows Plainview’s early prospecting struggles sans voice.   The cinematography (which makes magnificent use of landscape) by Robert Elswit is complemented by composer Jonny “Radiohead” Greenwood’s eery classical score.

The 2-Disc Collector’s Edition is a bit disappointing in the extras department.  No cast/crew commentary.  No “making of” featurette.  No interviews with the principal players.  What we get is a 15-minute montage (set to Greenwood’s score) of vintage photos that served as research materials for the film’s production design, a couple of trailers, and a few deleted scenes.  The most interesting extra is The Story of Petroleum, a short black-and-white silent documentary from the 1920s that shows the whole gauntlet of prospecting, drilling, processing and transporting black gold.  (It’s also set to the same Greenwood score – after a while it becomes too much of a good thing.)

So what does this film mean?  Does it mean anything?  Fans will argue this point endlessly – but that’s just part of the fun and satisfaction that comes with a movie like this.

There Will Be Blood is available at Amazon.com.

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1 Response to There Will Be Blood – Revisited

  1. patrick says:

    finally got to see the infamous There Will Be Blood… Daniel-Day Lewis’ performance was top-notch. He takes well to the overbearing, violent father-figure role — he also did this in Gangs of New York.

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