An Unforgettable Character Study and a Great Piece of Americana
"I'm an oilman, ladies and gentlemen." That's what Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) tells groups of property owners he's trying to persuade to let him drill on their land in There Will Be Blood (2007). Here Day-Lewis gives a towering performance, and it won him an Academy Award for Best Actor.
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood was nominated for a total of eight Oscars, including Best Picture. The film brilliantly evokes the world of the oilfields in California's San Joaquin Valley circa 1911. Day-Lewis and the supporting actors speak convincing dialogue that takes us back to a bygone era, and the movie is visually stunning, winning the Academy Award for Best Cinematography.
The film spans three decades in the life of Daniel Plainview, one of the most fascinating characters in cinema history. His story is the familiar one of a man starting with nothing, working hard and getting rich, but it's the details that make the movie enthralling. At one level the film paints an absorbing psychological portrait of a certain type of American entrepreneur, but at another we get a maverick insider's view of the petroleum industry in the early 20th century.
The Life and Times of a Driven, Antisocial, Self-Made Millionaire
"There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking," says Daniel Plainview (Daniel-Day Lewis). "I want to earn enough money I can get away from everyone." But while Daniel isn't likable, it's impossible not to be impressed by his rare combination of technical expertise, managerial skills and salesmanship. However, he becomes increasingly alienated. He tells his half-brother, "I see the worst in people, Henry. I don't need to look past seeing them to get all I need. I've built up my hatreds over the years, little by little."
Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson creates a richly detailed world for Daniel to move through. The story takes place against the backdrop of a burgeoning demand for petroleum. The landscapes are mostly uninviting, the equipment is big and ugly, and the men do unpleasant and dangerous work. But doggedly pursuing success under these circumstances gives Daniel a sense of purpose.
While Daniel is bringing in the gusher that puts him on the road to great wealth, he gets entangled with Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), a charismatic evangelist. The movie's strange mix of oil and religion has resonance for contemporary viewers.
In the film's most memorable dialogue, Eli visits Daniel at his mansion, and the oilman explains how he extracts oil that's under land for which he has no drilling rights. Daniel backs several feet away from Eli and instructs the evangelist to imagine they each have a milkshake. Then Daniel pretends to insert a very long straw into Eli's beverage, bellowing at him, "I drink your milkshake! I drink it up!"
Music, Location, Source Material
There Will Be Blood has some of the best music to be heard on any movie soundtrack. Composed by Jonny Greenwood, lead guitarist of the English alternative rock band Radiohead, the score is basically symphonic, but intense and moody. Greenwood's work was ruled ineligible for Academy Award consideration, apparently because it uses a substantial amount of pre-existing music.
Almost three-fourths of the film takes place near the fictional California town of Little Boston. This part of the movie was shot mostly in and around Marfa, Texas, an area also seen in Giant (1956) and No Country for Old Men (2007).
There Will Be Blood is loosely adapted from the 1927 novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair. Although Anderson has taken some of the film's elements from Sinclair, the story in the movie is very different from that in the book.
DVD Bonus Materials Are Few and Mediocre
The two-disc collector's edition of There Will Be Blood contains about 53 minutes of extras, but they reveal little about the feature film and are only so-so. Neither writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson nor lead actor Daniel Day-Lewis nor any other key member of the cast or crew seems to have participated.
The main thrust of the supplementary materials is to convince the viewer that the movie authentically captures the look and feel of California oilfields in the early 20th century. The featurette "15 minutes" contains a quarter of an hour of archival still photos and old film footage interspersed with clips from There Will Be Blood. There is also the 25-minute "The Story of Petroleum," a silent promotional film about the US oil industry made in the 1920s by the Bureau of Mines in collaboration with the Sinclair Oil Company. To like these, you probably have to be pretty nerdy.
The only other extras on the DVD set consist of 12 minutes of footage that was shot for There Will Be Blood, but not used in the final film. The most worthwhile is the sequence "Fishing," which is about recovering drilling tools that accidentally end up at the bottom of a 900-foot-deep oil well. "Haircut/Interrupted Hymn" seems to show a pair of deleted scenes. "Dailies Gone Wild" appears to be an outtake with the hymn "There Is Power in the Blood" incongruously playing over it.DVD Review Continues on the Next Page