There Will Be Blood

Movie Information

The Story: The story of the rise and fall of an oil tycoon and his relationship with an evangelical minister. The Lowdown: A savage, disturbing and wholly unusual work from Paul Thomas Anderson that's as apt to infuriate viewers as please them.
Score:

Genre: Drama
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier, Ciarán Hinds, Kevin J. O'Connor
Rated: R

There’s no doubt that Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the strongest voices in film today—and one of the most independently eccentric. His films aren’t really like anyone else’s, though in the case of his latest, There Will Be Blood, there are certainly strong intimations of at least three other movies—Erich von Stroheim’s Greed (1923), Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941) and Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974). But, as you might expect if you’re familiar with Anderson’s work, these echoes of earlier films are pretty darn idiosyncratic. For that matter, Anderson’s adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel Oil!—or more correctly, the first 150 pages of the book—can only charitably be called a very free adaptation indeed. “Inspired by” would probably be nearer the mark.

There Will Be Blood tells the story of an oilman ironically named Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis in a positively ferocious performance). We first meet him in an extended dialogue-free section—nearly 15 minutes—depicting his early days as a silver miner. (These scenes clearly recall Greed, as does the film’s bizarre—and controversial—ending, though in a different manner.) When we next see him as a hopeful oilman (to the degree the word hope can be applied to this fascinating monster), we find him adopting (or at least taking over) the child of a dead coworker. The apparent reason (never voiced) is that he thinks this child and his family-man status will make him more appealing to the people he wants to exploit.

Whether or not this works—especially since young H.W. Plainview (Dillon Freasier) is little more than a taciturn prop where others are concerned—Plainview’s fortunes do change when a young man, Paul Sunday (Paul Dano), shows up one day. For all intents and purposes, Paul betrays his family by selling Plainview the information that the Sunday farm is sitting on a huge oil deposit of which they aren’t aware. Swindling the family—and most of the surrounding landowners—isn’t a terribly difficult job, except for dealing with Eli Sunday (also played by Dano), a self-styled evangelical faith healer who wants money for his ministry. Sinclair undoubtedly drew the name from the popular evangelist of the early 20th century, Billy Sunday, but Anderson’s version of Eli is quickly revealed as a self-glorifying fake out for power and fame. In other words, Eli isn’t a great deal different from Plainview.

The crux of the film lies in the strange bedfellows nature of the relationship between Plainview’s oilman and Sunday’s religious zealot—each locked in a struggle with the other, yet each dependent on the other to achieve his ends. That there is a modern-day parallel in the relationship between oil-based big business and fundamentalist Christianity—complete with an inherent hypocrisy on both parts—is certainly not meant to be coincidental. However, this is only one aspect of the film, and one that Anderson leaves to the viewer. Of equal import is the relationship between Plainview and H.W., which is clearly deeper (at least till the child is deafened by an explosion) than Plainview admits even to himself.

The story is long and dense—I’ve touched on only a few of the plot points here—and also brutal and disturbing with outbursts of bitterly icy humor. As it moves forward, it becomes Anderson’s Citizen Kane—except that the loveless, friendless and utterly misanthropic Plainview descends far further into insanity than Kane ever did. He becomes the spiritual ancestor of the thoroughly corrupt Noah Cross character played by John Huston in Chinatown until he so completely divorces himself from humankind that all that’s left is his twisted connection to Eli Sunday—the connection that forms the film’s aforementioned climax. Anderson’s is a dark and strange film. Nothing about it is quite normal—from its status as a miniature epic to its deliberately overbearing Bartok-esque score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood—but all of it is as fascinating as its monstrous main character. It’s not a film to like, but it’s too powerful to ignore. Rated R for some violence

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

36 thoughts on “There Will Be Blood

  1. Patrick

    The film finally opens in today (01-18)!!! I have never seen a more mesmerizing, yet bland movie trailer. DDL performance in the trailer alone could win him an oscar. I look forward to seeing the entire film.

  2. chall gray

    After finally having seen the movie last night, I’m slightly perplexed as to why the end has been so controversial.

    To me it seemed positively apropos w/r/t the character arc of Plainview throughout the movie, and a great climax.

  3. Ken Hanke

    You’ll get no argument from me on that point, but a lot of people have complained that the ending is too over-the-top. I don’t really get that. I more readily understand those who complain that the scenes leading up to it are on the meandering side, even though I can’t say that they bothered me personally.

    Unfortunately, with the film only just now in an area theater, it becomes difficult — almost impossible — to discuss why the ending works in the context of the film’s themes without giving away too much for those who might yet go to see it.

  4. The film is brilliant, and if it weren’t for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN it would be the best of the year imo.

    I loved the ending. Fits the character perfectly.

    marc

  5. Ezekiel

    Although I once thought it would be unfair to discuss the ending of a film still in theaters, on second thought I wonder when are we supposed to discuss it…in 6 months when it comes out on DVD? While a review itself should not give away the ending, maybe the Comment section should contain a “Spoiler Warning” and then allow everyone to discuss the film freely?

  6. Ken Hanke

    Well, it’s an approach that might work. I’m not opposed to it. I once saw someone get bent out of shape because someone posted the name of the killer in THE THIN MAN — and it was made in 1934.

  7. Patrick

    Wow, I finally got to see this film.
    Hollywood’s leading men should consider taking a year off vying for an oscar when he steps on a movie set. He is absolutely amazing. Thankfully for those leading men (unfortunately for us), he doesn’t make a lot of movies.
    The only thing I didn’t like about the movie is that the conclusion seems rushed. Oh well, anyone want to go bowling?

  8. Ezekiel

    (SPOILER WARNING) We see H.W. read the “brother’s” diary, find gun ads tucked in the pages, and shortly thereafter start a fire. Do you think he’s trying to kill the “brother,” Daniel Plainview, or both? And is he trying to kill himself as well? Or is he simply crazy and trying to relive the experience that left him deaf?

  9. Patrick

    (SPOILER RESPONSE AND WARNING)

    Crazy, drunk, enamored with fire, choose your poison. Kids often have a warped sense of logic, so trying to “relive” the experience in the hopes of a different outcome may be a possibility. Also, remember Daniel left him to tend to the oil fire. We know that the Plainview family knows how to hold a grudge.

  10. Ezekiel

    (SPOILER WARNING)

    And what is the origin of the gun with which Plainview confronts the “brother?” Unless I missed something, the first we see of it is when Plainview points it in the “brother’s” face. Are we to assume it’s the same gun as in the ads stuffed in the diary, i.e., is it the “brother’s” gun?

  11. Adam Renkovish

    Excellent, excellent film! Daniel Day Lewis’ best performance since “My Left Foot”, in my humble opinion. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a P.T. Anderson film that I didn’t like. Very Altman-esque. I wish I could review this one for the newspaper at my university. However, I found out that because I go to North Greenville University – a Baptist university – we can’t review any R rated films. That’s a load of bull that I do not understand. However, I did write a five star review on my Amazon page! I loved this film, and the ultra-conservatives over here don’t know what they’re missing!

  12. Ken Hanke

    Actually, I think it’s a better performance than the one in MY LEFT FOOT. Sorry you can’t review it for your school paper, though I have a suspicion that those who will not allow it would object to the film for more reasons than its rating were they to watch it.

  13. TonyRo

    I finally got to see this one on Sunday. It was very well made, some great settings, costumes, and camerawork. Daniel Day Lewis is a superb actor and he made it look easy with this movie. Felt like it could have trimmed up a bit though….mainly at the end.

    I still like my brother’s reaction after as we walked out: “I didn’t like it. I felt like I gained nothing out of this. All it was, was a guy being an asshole for two and a half hour.”

  14. Walt

    Saw this film last night. Hated it. It has replaced No Country for Old Men as my least enjoyed film of 2007. I had high hopes for it as I am a huge fan of Magnolia but came away angry, disappointed and feeling more than a little creeped out. I have to agree with TonyRo’s brother.

  15. I finally got around to seeing this. Wow. Very rarely does a film stun me into silence like this one did. Accidentally reading all of the spoilers didn’t even come close to preparing me for Dano and Day-Lewis’ visceral performances during the final scene.

    TWBB’s Wikipedia entry says that part of the movie was filmed in Asheville! If I had to guess, I’d say they filmed part of it @ Biltmore, but I can’t pin down exactly which scene. Anyone know?

  16. Justin Souther

    Somehow it seems that a rumor has started saying that the bowling alley scene was filmed at the Biltmore House. It even says this on the film’s IMDb page.

    Aside from the two bowling alleys looking completely dissimilar, some research shows that the film’s final scenes were shot at the Greystone Mansion, in Beverly Hills.

  17. Todd

    Just saw this last night at the “dollar theatre” in Hendersonville. Liked the film very much, and the experience was enhanced (for me, at least) by a lady in the audience who moaned every time Plainview unleashed his violence. It culminated with her saying “no!” and groaning with…every…blow in the ending scene. Theatres should hire people to do that sort of thing.

  18. Ken Hanke

    All you need to do is hire Justin Souther to come sit in the audience and someone like that will show up and sit right behind him or right in front of him. It follows as the night does the day.

  19. Todd

    Wow. One never knows what one will trigger, do one? I don’t really want the noises right beside me–I prefer a more ambient sort of moaning effect. I would like to see Justin get hit by groceries, though…what time’s the next show? Are canned goods okay, or is it a “produce only” kind of affair?

  20. Ken Hanke

    “Are canned goods okay, or is it a “produce only” kind of affair?”

    Well, are we talking can of vienna sausages or no. 10 can of wax beans?

  21. Justin Souther

    Just for clarification, the groceries were bagged, so they were more slung into my head as opposed to thrown.

    And I guess if you insist on chucking various foods at me non-perishable items would ultimately be the most useful.

  22. dollypin

    I also thought that the “bowling scene” was filmed at the Biltmore. I had been to the mansion about one week before I saw the movie…too weird. Can anyone confirm that it WAS filmed at the Biltmore Estate?

  23. Ken Hanke

    If you scroll back up, there’s information about where it actually was filmed and a link comparing the bowling alley in the film to the one at the Biltmore Estate. It pretty conclusively proves it was not shot at the Biltmore Estate.

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