It is not often that a movie as timeless and masterful as Paul Thomas Anderson's 2007 film There Will Be Blood is released. Frequently, as audiences, we are relegated to watch mindless cash-grabs and want-to-be arthouse cinema. Of course, every year comes with a good handful of outstanding films, some years more than others; however, There Will Be Blood stands above the rest; it is a film that we can expect once in a decade. It is a film that focuses so deeply on the simple nuances of its structure and narrative development as well as the technical mastery it employs that it can't help but be entertaining, cinematic, and important. There Will Be Blood is an example of what meaningful, entertaining cinema is.
There Will Be Blood, the fifth film by writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson, chronicles the career of impoverished silver miner turned wealthy oil tycoon Daniel Plainview. Using his son to project a trustworthy, family-man image, Plainview cons local landowners into selling him their oil-rich property at a low price. However, when preacher Eli Sunday suspects Plainview of having ulterior motives, a slow-burning feud begins that puts the family, the fortune, and the life of Daniel Plainview on the line. There Will Be Blood, without a doubt, is the best character study of all time, second only to Anderson's follow-up, The Master. The film adopts genre conventions from that of the American Western and twists these elements to explore themes of greed, morality, family, and religion to explore the effects that success and fortune can have on one man's life. As the film progresses deeper into its two-hour and thirty-eight-minute runtime, we are presented with the transformation of a once soft-spoken, modest silver miner into a villainous and greedy oil prospector whose thoughts of expansion on both physical and economic frontiers haunt him for the duration of the picture.
Writing and THemes
There Will Be Blood was the first film from Anderson which departed from the director's, at the time, usual plot-driven narratives such as Punch Drunk Love or Boogie Nights. In previous works, Anderson would use the film's narrative structure to embed messages relevant to the story. While effective in many cases, this style of storytelling does not lend itself well to the slow-burn, cautionary tale that Anderson wished to tell in There Will Be Blood. Rather, the quieter, more focused character study employed by the director was successfully used to convey themes of greed, family, religion, and morality. By exploring Daniel Plainview specifically, Anderson is able to use the narrative structuring of his film to caution audiences against the actions taken by the character in the picture. It is in showing us the terrible ways that Plainview's greed affects his family, relationships, and reputation, that Anderson is able to offer the devastating effects that fame and fortune can have on audiences' lives. There Will Be Blood is an exploration of the rash effects that being well driven can have. This is especially true as it relates to our capitalist society and the valuation we have of material goods and quantifiable success over the quieter virtues in life, such as our family and morality. Anderson achieves his exploration of this duality through his slow and methodical building of Plainview's character. Audiences are introduced to Plainview and his son almost immediately in a short montage sequence absent of any dialogue. As he progresses further in his career, moving to California to drill on oil-rich property, Anderson defines Plainview's relationship with his son, giving us glimpses into the quieter moments between the two. Take, for example, how Plainview tightly holds his son following the explosion of the oil rig. It is in the second half of the movie that Anderson rips Plainview's son away, leaving him to fully transform into a villainous oil prospector who has one goal: to drill as much oil and to make as much money as he can. Here, the secondary themes of There Will Be Blood, such as religion and morality, are explored. By the end of the film, Anderson begs the question, how far will a driven man go to secure his success?
This question leads me to my final point as it relates to the writing and thematic development of There Will Be Blood. It is Anderson's comfort in leaving the audience with a question rather than an answer, a topic of conversation rather than a solution that makes There Will Be Blood the masterful work of cinema that it is. The film understands its place: it is a tale of caution, and in order to be a tale of caution, it has no right to provide a complete and concise message. It is the exploration of the film's warnings and themes that audiences are expected to have after viewing, which will, in turn, lead to the film's message. To me, that is a beautiful thing that not many writer/directors aside from Anderson have the ability to accomplish
It is not only an incredible script that sets There Will Be Blood aside as a twenty-first-century classic but also a technical mastery that creates a gorgeous and epic viewing experience for audiences. Anderson uses formal elements such as directing, cinematography, performance and score to enhance the film's themes and characters.
There Will Be Blood's strongest asset, aside from an airtight screenplay, is Anderson's directing. Throughout the film, dramatic long takes are used to enhance the realism and suspense of the story. For example, halfway through the film, when a poorly constructed oil rig goes up in flames, Anderson presents the majority of this scene in an exaggerated one-take which tracks with Plainview as he rescues his son from the debris. Experiencing a high-stakes moment, such as this one, in real-time with the character enhances our connection to both the events which play out on screen, as well as the characters that experience them. Tangentially, Anderson's use of montage to quickly and visually convey important dramatic beats and characterization heightens the immersiveness of the narrative, showing audiences the quiet moments in charachters lives and giving us a chance to see between the smoke and mirrors: Daniel Plainview's public persona and how it differs to how he acts when nobody is watching.
The cinematography also happens to play a significant role in the film. Cinematographer Robert Elswit's technical mastery allows for smooth camera motion, which enhances production value. Elswit, however, juxtaposes his smooth formalist movement with a more realist lighting approach. His use of warmer moonlight, which appears to be almost day-light balanced, provides a raw, more realistic picture and draws an audience closer to the characters. It also seems as though Elswit pushed the grain in the film stock, making it more prominent in the frame and subsequently creating a dirtier-looking image.
Both Cinematography and Directing are aided by what is an outstanding performance by Daniel Day-Lewis. His unique physicality while playing Daniel Plainview allows for what seems to be a well-thought-out, lived-in character. The collaboration between Anderson and Day-Lewis shines here with a script that lays the groundwork for a captivating performance from the acclaimed actor.
Finally, an element that I have not touched on yet is the score in There Will Be Blood. The film was composed by Radio-head lead guitarist Johnny Greenwood in what is one of his first theatrical scoring efforts. His knowledge and combination of classical scoring and modern rock allow for a unique score relevant to the time period portrayed and the modern-day. Johnny Greenwood creates tracks that are impactful as much as they are memorable and iconic.
There Will Be Blood by writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson is a perfect example of what a well-thought-out script can become when paired with the right creative eye and technical understanding. No element of There Will Be Blood could have been better; it is exciting and cinematic while remaining cautious and important. The themes the film explores are as old as time and will continue to remain relevant moving forward. Anderson's approach to the material allows for a movie that is both timeless and masterful in the way in which it presents themes and messages, asking the audience to think and to walk away with something they did not enter knowing. There Will Be Blood: 10/10.