There Will Be Blood ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Oil; the thick, black, precious liquid bubbles away omniously, lurking underground as far as the eye can see across the desolate, turn-of-the-century California landscape, as people are quite literally baptized and buried in it, so insidiously pervasive its presence is, driving men mad with a lustful, insatiable greed, and planting fantasies in their heads of becoming impossibly rich from what is essentially a raping of this rich, virgin land. One of the men driven by this madness (and many, many more) is Daniel Plainview, whose outward mask of benevolent capitalism and civility is revealed to mask a soul that's even darker than the black gold he lusts for, and whose greed and utter contempt for the rest of humanity is the central driving force behind Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood, an absolutely epic, monolithic historical drama that towers over cinema as tall as the derricks looming over the very landscape.

Blood tells the story of Plainview, an unrepentantly avaricious, misanthropic prospector looking to exploit the naive, innocent locals caught in the middle of the Southern California oil boom of the early 20th century, using any number of deceiftful machinations he can, along with the friendly facade of running a "family business" with his besuited, 10 year-old son H.W. as a prop (who is really the orphan of a worker who died a decade ago on one of Plainview's worksites), all in order to ruthlessly screw people out of their own land. A tip on the location of a fertile new oilfield ripe for the drilling brings Plainview to Little Boston, a small, rural community which is held underneath the sway of Eli Sunday, a fanatical but scrupleless local preacher/"faith healer", who's looking to, whether in a religious manner or just an old-fashioned financial sense, profit off of Plainview's presence in his community, just the same as Plainview desires to profit off the community itself (the same community that Eli was already exploiting in the first place, it must be noted). And, as the bitter conflict between the two men and the insitutions they represent grows more and more, and the various personal turmoils he faces keep piling up, Plainview's public mask of being a polite, genial local businessman begins to gradually slip, as the nature of his true, naked, murderous misanthropy is revealed more and more, resulting in one of the greatest inner journeys I've seen in any film character ever, full stop

Not that Daniel's arc is great because he fundamentally changes as a human being, as it becomes obvious that he started off as a hateful man and just gets worse as the film unfolds, and there's no real moment here where it seems like he could fully redeem, or even just better himself slightly (sorry, this just isn't that kind of movie). Rather, his personal journey is great to witness here because of the striking, undeniably powerful ways in which it's executed, of course, not least of which comes from Daniel Day-Lewis's iconic, Oscar-winning portrayal of him, an utterly convincing, absolutely commanding performance, to the point where it seems less like acting, and more like Paul Thomas Anderson invented a time machine and brought Plainview straight from 1911 to present day, merely for authenticity's sake. It truly is one of film's all-time greatest feats of acting, an overwhelming tour-de-force of oily, slyly manipulative tones, concealed hatreds, and cerebral bore stares that could pierce titanium, and, while I have to admit that Lewis does go just a bit too over-the-top with his unhinged histrionics during the film's epilogue, for the most part he's successful in fully, 100% embodying the role here, and it should come as no surprise that, even as one of most legendary, venerated actors of his generation (if not the most), with so.many great, iconic roles to his name, his Plainview has still become one of the most beloved performances of his entire career, if not the most beloved, period

Of course, the other aspects of Blood are equally important in making it such a good film, especially the overall style of PTA's direction, which fascinates with its emphasis on subtly sweeping, slowly developing tracking shots that manage to impress while still restraining themselves from being overly showy, long, extended takes that allow Anderson's compelling, richly-written dialogue and the actors deftly sparring with it room to breathe, and with its wide, expansive vistas of the barren, alien California landscapes that sharply contrast with facial close-ups so intense, you can practically smell the sweat coming off of the performers. And all of that isn't even mentioning the disconcerting hum of Johnny Greenwood's borderline avant-garde, dissonance-heavy score, which often creates an overall effect here that can only be described as downright hypnotic, and, to this day, it's still one of the great injustices in cinema history that, not only did this score not win the Oscar for Best Score the following year, it wasn't even nominated, which just goes to demonstrate the sort of dull, conservative attitude toward cinema that dominated The Academy at the time (and still does, to a certain extent).

And finally, There Will Be Blood excels through the strong, constant conflict between its central personalities, the clash between the figureheads of Daniel and Eli and the various American institutions they represent, though Anderson often shows the two mortal enemies (and the forces driving them, respectively) to be barely distinguishable, if at all. Plainview is the consumerate American capitalist and then some, increasingly erratic as his personal fortune grows, unabashedly greedy to the point of murder, and only concerned with his own financial success even when his own workers, friends, and even family suffer as a result, while Sunday, instead of spreading the love of the God that he claims to believe in, is only really concerned with personal glory, whether it be using the presence of oil in Little Boston to wring extra money out of Daniel to supposedly use on his church (where he practices his frenzied, hysterical "faith healing" on the gullible local populace), trying to exploit the opening of the local oil well in order to promote himself first and only, and very readily abandoning his faith and claiming that he is "a false prophet and God is a superstition" when forced to beg for help by Daniel. The entire affair is an epic, sprawling commentary on two iconic institutions of American life, wrapped inside of a ceaselessly fascinating dual-character study that spans decades, and one of the better films of the 2000's at least, if not one of the best, and, since I feel I've written more than enough about this movie by now, I suppose you could say that I'm finished? Yes, I believe I am, so... I'm finished!!!

And go watch TWBB, by the way.

Final Score: 9.25

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