There Will Be Blood
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Kevin J. O’Connor, Ciarán Hinds
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
There’s a reason it seems we keep seeing the same movies over and over.
Which is why a movie like There Will Be Blood is so deep-down thrilling. Thrilling in a way that’s both visceral and intellectual. It feels like it has reinvented cinema. It feels like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It feels, in a world awash in nothing new under the sun, like something new under the sun.
Blood has an old-fashioned kind of ambiance reminiscent of Gone with the Wind and 1950s epics like Giant and even Citizen Kane. But Blood slaps you in the face, too. It’s Joe Pesci in Goodfellas raging, “Do I amuse you?”
Blood is not contemptuous of you. It just doesn’t care what you think. It’s not there for you. It’s there for itself. In a philosophical vernacular encompassing the world’s randomness into a whaddaya-gonna-do shrug, it is what it is.
Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson — who made hard-to-like, easy-to-love movies Boogie Nights and Punch-Drunk Love — starts out here with a painful pinch that makes you sit up and take notice, and by the time he’s done with you, he has bludgeoned you to death with his story.
Based on Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil!, Blood is very much a fictional story that runs on the rules of fiction. Anderson just makes you forget that. It’s as effortless as it is resolutely uneasy from the harsh discordancy of its weirdly urgent soundtrack by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood to the oddly stilted yet deeply, coldly expressive performance by Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview, a turn-of-the-century oilman who comes into a small California desert town and pumps out its oil.
The slow, subtle hypocrisies of Plainview’s life are the story, as greed pushes him to do ever more horrific things, and the slow, subtle mood that Anderson creates with long takes and unhurried edits lulls us into getting caught up in it all in spite of how little the overall effort seems to court us at all.
It works perfectly well with the overarching story of Blood as a mythology of oil, a fairy tale for the industrial age. It’s the story of human endeavor in the 20th century, ambition and avarice driving out all other thought, with tragedy intertwined with the mucky crude and the divisiveness of modern life.
Paul Dano (the silent teenage son in Little Miss Sunshine) is breathtaking as the man of the cloth who butts heads over decades with Plainview. Dano is potent and brusque and more than a match for Day-Lewis, underplaying what could have been a big, brash character, a decision that makes him unforgettable.
This is one of those movies that may well vex casual moviegoers: It’s actively unpleasant, in many ways, and not in any way that allows vindication at its end by vanquishing a bad guy and letting hope shine again.
But that’s why we critics are praising it: Not because we’re deliberately trying to be obscure and elitist and cool and superior, but because we see a lot more movies than you do, and we’re hungry for originality and daring.
And we see that here, like we haven’t seen it in a long time.