Written By: BEN THOMSON
At the beginning of the film, protagonist Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) lies on the floor of an assay office, a broken man, waiting to trade a sample of silver for a small payment. By the end of the film, he sits on the floor of his private bowling alley located inside of his giant mansion.
Loosely based on Upton Sinclair’s Oil!, “There Will Be Blood” is a haunting critique
of capitalism and the men that benefit most from it.
The story of Daniel Plainview illustrates the hard work and determination it takes to
achieve the American Dream. However, the cost of doing so leaves the audience to question whether or not the heart of this great nation really is as black as the oil that built it.
As a minor-turned-oilman, Plainview’s journey is primarily driven by greed. He’s ruthless in his climb to the top, humiliating and eliminating the competition as he goes, leaving a slew of shattered relationships in his wake.
Daniel Plainview isn’t going to stop at victory. He wants to make sure that his enemies are destroyed, humiliated or even dead.
The explosive performance given by Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the best in history,
completely immersing the viewer into the muddy boots of the now-iconic sociopathic driller. His struggle to the top is uncomfortably familiar, with the strongest parallels being drawn between his character and the oil tycoons that shaped America into what it is today. Cinematographer, Ryan Elswit, places the camera very close to the characters, allowing the presence of unexpected intimacy. The system now has a face.
If Daniel Plainview is the hero of his own story, then Baptist Preacher Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) is his villain. Daniel and Eli are two sides of the same silver dollar. Eli’s quest for power is achieved through using the power of religion and scripture, enrapturing the small town of Little Boston with the promise of spiritual healing and divine forgiveness.
The only thing in his way? The promise of wealth and prosperity from Daniel. It’s a race to see what can get bigger: Plainview’s rig or Eli’s church.
There’s something tragic about “There Will Be Blood.” Director Paul Thomas Anderson carefully connects the dots between capitalism and religion, showing that they aren’t as different as we may think. As much as these institutions claim to care for you, in the end, you’re just a means to their end.
The choice to set the film just a few years before World War I is smart, as it gives us a glimpse of the beginning of the America we know today.
The iconic score by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood is foreboding. The hypnotically jarring sounds complement Elswit’s haunting visuals. The string section fills you with dread as Daniel strikes oil for the first time, swelling as black tar bubbles up from the mud.
It’s a moment that tells its audience that there’s no going back. Not for Daniel, not for Eli, not for America. It doesn’t really matter which violent sociopath was victorious. Their struggle for power laid the groundwork for modern America. And we lost.
“There Will Be Blood” is the greatest American film of all time and one of the defining movies of our generation. If you haven’t seen it already, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
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