DirkH’s review published on Letterboxd:
There are only a handful of artists that have it in them to comment through their medium on the nature of humanity. In cinema there haven't been that many that do or have done this as consistently impressively as Paul Thomas Anderson has.
There Will Be Blood is Shakespearean in nature and like The Bard's great tragedies, it offers no easy exits and no redemption. We are presented with a protagonist representing our species' most problematic possession, the ego. Daniel Plainview is a rotten man, only concerned with his own growth and personal gain, with one goal, to get away from people because he doesn't like them. Throughout the film we are shown how he manipulates, bullies and murders. Whether because he wants people to do things for him or because he is deceived in some way, he has to be the one in control, the one with the power. He is also a self made man. We can admire him for his drive and for his enterprising demeanour. But in the end, he most definitely isn't a good man. I'd even go so far as to say that he is evil.
When filmmakers or storytellers want to comment on the nature of evil, they often forget that for someone to be evil they first have to be human. Daniel Plainview is a thoroughly evil man, but Anderson never loses sight of his humanity. Even when, later in his life, he becomes more beast than man, we are always fully aware of who he is, where he came from and that in his road to where he is now, he has made poor decisions and felt the pain of the loneliness he so sought after. And that is what makes him a tragic character instead of just the villain of the piece. Daniel Plainview is one of the most intriguing and frighteningly human characters ever created.
In most stories there has to be balance, but in Anderson's tale there isn't. The force countering Plainview is good at the surface, but deep underneath Eli Sunday's character lies the same ego that drives Plainview. With a façade of religious goodness, he is as manipulative as his counterpart with him betraying his true nature in that phenomenal final scene. Plainview is never intimidated by Eli in the film because he sees him for what he is, he recognises himself and thus knows how to deal with him.
With these different sides of the same coin it seems Anderson wants to highlight the duality of man. From ambition can come great things but we need a connection, a moral compass to guide us along the way. Plainview has convinced himself he doesn't need that connection, but we are also shown his regrets and his eagerness when a possible connection shows up out of the blue. Eli seeks this guidance in, what Plainview considers, a fabrication. It most certainly seems that Eli doesn't do what he does out of faith and conviction but out of doubt and a need for validation. Slowly but surely Anderson allows his characters to regress into a more basic state of being, almost primal in their archetypical roles, bound on an inescapable collision course, much like where we are now as a society. It runs deeper than capitalism versus religion, it is man versus himself which always seems to be the source of any conflict in history and current affairs. I'm glad I am a bit more hopeful than Anderson but his grim depiction and condemnation of what we are and can be is frighteningly accurate and recognisable.
Daniel Day Lewis's total immersion in his character and Anderson's choice to place him in practically every shot, mostly in close up is what makes this film so mesmerizing. Studying Lewis's face is fantastic, the nuance he puts into his character, the command of his voice, everything is breathtaking. This is probably one of the best performances I have ever seen by any actor. As distant as the character is, the performance sucked me in and made it impossible to look away. Paul Dano is great as well, giving strong competition in the scenes they share, but it does feel that happens because of the generosity of Lewis. He commands and dominates when he needs, but is fully aware when he has to give room to his fellow actors.
The music is absolutely amazing. It enhances every single shot it is put under, sometimes striking a nerve because of its discordant nature. It is simply a perfect companion to the amazing images, be they epic or small.
Anderson has with There Will Be Blood produced a film that is a technical marvel, a soul searching comment, an example of pure craftsmanship and a cinematic milestone. He pushes the boundaries of existential storytelling and film making so hard with this film that it most deservedly should get all the accolades it has been given. On all levels, this is an important film.