There Will Be Blood [DVD]
Director : Paul Thomas Anderson
Screenplay : Paul Thomas Anderson (based on the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2007
Stars : Daniel Day-Lewis (Daniel Plainview), Paul Dano (Paul Sunday / Eli Sunday), Kevin J. O'Connor (Henry), Ciaran Hinds (Fletcher), Dillon Freasier (H.W.), Russell Harvard (Adult H.W. Plainview)
For the first 15 minutes of Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood, not a word is spoken. We are brought into the film with a slowly dawning shot of three hilltops that emerges along with a dissonant roar of music by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, which is then immediately countered by the sharp, metallic sound of metal hitting rock. Deep inside a hole we are introduced to Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), a grizzled silver prospector in 1898 who accidentally discovers oil instead. He then becomes an “oil man,” setting up an oil-drilling business and making money hand over fist. His appearance is cleaned up--that burly beard is replaced by a well-manicured moustache--but that driven man we first met in the hole is still the same.
In those wordless 15 opening minutes, Anderson sets up both the narrative and the world in which it will inhabit--a world of competition, danger, and sudden, vicious violence from above. It's an audacious beginning, and it sets up brilliantly the epic story to come, which will span several decades in charting Plainview's ascension to the top of the capitalist ladder. Anderson matches the scope of the story, which is loosely based on Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel Oil!, with a spectacular visual approach that reminds you of just how powerful widescreen cinematography can be. The compositions are frequently exquisite--painterly, without being static, which is partially why this lengthy story moves so fluidly despite being comprised primarily of setpieces separated by long periods of off-screen time.
Anderson has worked in the epic mode before; his breakthrough film Boogie Nights (1997) spanned a dozen years and just as many characters in its depiction of the seedy world of pornography in the 1970s, while Magnolia (1999) was tightly controlled in terms of time, but grandiose in its interweaving of multiple character arcs. His last film, 2002's Adam Sandler art-comedy Punch-Drunk Love, was a purposeful act of misdirection, but I think it gave Anderson just the respite he needed before immersing himself in another epic tale, this one of literal Biblical proportions. Despite its long running time and ambitious narrative, There Will Be Blood is a deeply intimate film, even as it constantly forces you to understand the pathos of a torturous main character who steadfastly refuses to talk about himself, yet can't help but reveal himself (in this respect Day-Lewis's Oscar-winning performance, which has been championed for its power and grandiosity, is actually more subtle than it seems).
As the title suggests, There Will Be Blood is a story of mounting tension and conflict, both emotional and physical. Dread is its primary currency, and it infuses every scene, both the hellish and the idyllic. One of the film's most extraordinary sequences involves an oil well finally hitting the black gold, which erupts like a volcano and then catches fire, turning the grand discovery into a raging inferno that suggests the inherent volatility of exploration and discovery. Greenwood's score, which also borrows various motifs and bits from classical music, reflects this in its uncanny crescendos, which are reminiscent of Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind's electronic score in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980).
The use of music is hardly the only comparison one can make to Kubrick's oeuvre; while Anderson, who tends to favor interweaving multi-character tapestries, has frequently been compared to Robert Altman (or derided as Altman Lite), here he seems to be navigating through the same icy backwaters of the human heart that tended to define Kubrick's most powerful films. Some have found There Will Be Blood to be lacking in humanity, the same criticism frequently leveled at Kubrick, but that's precisely the point. The film is a requiem for human decency, trampled beneath the onslaught of capitalism, progress, and a heightened sense of purpose that becomes a twisted justification for personal excess.
Hence the centrality of Daniel Plainview, a complex, often infuriating contradiction of a man who becomes the literal embodiment of the wages of sin. He's all ambition, but without any sense of genuine purpose; the complexity and artistry of Day-Lewis's performance becomes clear only when you realize that he's playing a shell with no core. Plainview defines himself as two things: an “oil man” and a “family man,” both of which he wears as badges of honor and uses to ingratiate himself into whatever community in which he's mining. Both are misleading in a sense; he's an oil man only out of chance and circumstance, and his notions of family are strained at best. Early on he adopts the son of an oil worker killed at one of his sites, and then turns him into his “partner.” Having a cute 8-year-old by his side gives him an edge in business dealings, but we also get the sense that it's Plainview's only means of staying connected with anything resembling a soul. This is reinforced when a stranger (Kevin J. O'Connor) claiming to be his long-lost brother appears one day, and Plainview takes him into the business.
The nature of the soul is at war in There Will Be Blood, and the primary conflict is between Plainview and a young preacher named Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), who wants to use the oil money to build a church. There is immediate animosity between the two men from the beginning, perhaps because they see too much of themselves in each other. While one is a man of money who professes no real spiritual belief and the other is a man of religion who literally beats the demons out of his congregation, Plainview and Eli are two sides of the same corrupt coin. There Will Be Blood is a portrait of Americana at its most despoiled (hence the emphasis on oil, the dirtiest and most profitable of enterprises), and Anderson's conflicting protagonists represent opposite poles of corruption: secular capitalist greed and self-serving religious fundamentalism. That both characters wind up at the end in the pit of despair is a virtual given, yet Anderson still makes their final conflict shocking in its raw brutality, even as he shows the grand absurdity of it all.
|There Will Be Blood 2-Disc Collector's Edition DVD Set|
|There Will Be Blood is also available in a single-disc edition (SRP $29.99).|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish|
|Distributor||Paramount Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||April 8, 2008|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|There Will Be Blood's boldly compelling, Oscar-winning cinematography is very nicely conveyed in this disc's anamorphic widescreen transfer. The image is beautiful and very filmlike, finding a good balance between rendering fine detail and being too sharp (some of the wider shots may seem a bit soft, which I'm sure will be improved in the inevitable high-def release). Colors look excellent throughout the film's relatively subdued palette, which means that bright bursts like the fiery oil well inferno really pop off the screen. Blacks are solid without ever becoming murky, especially in the opening passages and in Plainview's darkened mansion. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is likewise very good, giving us both the subtle details of the environment (the wind blowing across the plains, the clanking of equipment) and the roar of Jonny Greenwood's amazing score, which powerfully envelops you at times throughout the film.|
|For a 2-Disc Collector's Set, the supplements provided here are a surprisingly light, especially given the in-depth treatment Paul Thomas Anderson has lavished on DVDs of his other films. There is no audio commentary and no documentaries about the making of the film and no interviews with any of the cast or crew. What is there, then? Well, there's “15 Minutes,” which is a 15-minute (duh) slide-shown presentation of Anderson's research into early 20th-century culture and oil drilling (period photographs, film footage, etc.) juxtaposed with corresponding scenes from the film. It's an absorbing piece that shows you just how much work the filmmakers put into evoking the film's time and place. There are two trailers--a theatrical trailer and a teaser trailer--and a pair of relatively short deleted sequences (6 minutes and 3 minutes, respectively). The title of the 3-minute “Dailies Gone Wild” seems almost willfully perverse, especially given the fact that it's one, unedited take from the dinner confrontation scene in which Day-Lewis loses his infamous composure right at the end. The most interesting supplement is a 1923 government-produced promotional/educational film titled “The Story of Petroleum, which explains via footage of actual oil drilling and various animations how the U.S. oil industry does its work.|
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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