Background: I haven't seen Hard Eight. I liked Boogie Nights. I loved Magnolia. I've forgotten Punch-Drunk Love. And along comes writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson's fifth film, There Will Be Blood, loosely based on Upton Sinclair's "Oil!" and starring the living legend Daniel Day-Lewis (Gangs of New York, The Last of the Mohicans), and Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine, Fast Food Nation). It also stars no women. Seriously, I don't remember a spoken line from any female in all 2 hours, 38 minutes. How is that possible? Anyway, There Will Be Blood has already been named Best Picture by the National Society of Film Critics, one of many, many awards it is likely to win by the end of February.
Synopsis: Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis) is a misanthropic, alcoholic silver miner who strikes oil in early 1900's California. With his shrewd business practices and knack for efficient drilling, he soon becomes one of the foremost "oilmen" in the area. His greatest find actually finds him when Paul Sunday (Dano) tells him there is an ocean of oil under his family's ranch. Plainview and his young son, H.W., immediately stake their claim on the ranch and the surrounding area, but meet strong opposition from Paul's twin brother (?) Eli (Dano), who is the fiery preacher at the Church of the 3rd Revelation. Plainview's oil venture seems to be cursed from the start, as accidents (H.W. loses his hearing) and advantageous visitors (Daniel's "brother" shows up) almost bring him down. Enough damage is done so that years later we see Plainview as a wretched tycoon shooting sculptures in the hallways of his opulent mansion. He cruelly disowns H.W. and has a final, chilling confrontation with his rival Eli Sunday.
+ The first 10-15 minutes, in which there is no dialogue. Impressive and effective in pulling you in.
+ Daniel Day-Lewis, who is once again frightening, and frighteningly good.
+ The restaurant scene where Daniel confronts the Standard Oil group in front of his unassuming son.
+ The production design - amazing details and sweeping shots of the terrain in the Old West. Filming in Texas and New Mexico set the tone here, a la No Country for Old Men.
+ The actors who played H.W. Plainview, both as a child and as an adult.
+ The disturbing ending.
- Some minor but noticeable similarities between Daniel Plainview and Bill the Butcher from Gangs of New York.
- Paul Dano - he did well acting but I just didn't enjoy the scenes he was in.
- Some dragging in the production, mostly 20-30 minutes after Henry Plainview shows up.
- That I didn't sense any overarching lesson from the movie except the predictable warnings about greed and religious zealotry.
- At times, the way-too-present soundtrack. Here and there it added to the scenes, but when it disappeared in the last half hour I found myself able to get deeper into the movie.
- That the mystery of Paul/Eli Sunday isn't fully clarified. I've seen strong arguments that they are the same person and also that they are twins. Apparently there is more evidence that they are twins, but I think it's a much richer story if Paul is in fact the sinful persona of Eli.
Writing - 9
Acting - 10
Production - 8
Emotional Impact - 9
Music - 5
Significance - 4
Total: 45/50= 90% = A-
Last Word: There Will Be Blood is a major departure in almost every aspect from Paul Thomas Anderson's previous films, so don't expect anything similar. Instead, prepare for the dark descent of an opportunistic man into an evil, Howard Hughes-like loner. As I said above, I'm not sure if there are any really deep lessons from the movie - at least maybe not as much as their could have been - but it's still a compelling story that is masterfully told. For me, the sight of oil gushing from the ground was amazing, especially in thinking of just how significant it is to global everything in 2008. I don't even know how that was done - what do you use as fake crude oil? And if it was real, didn't it inflate the budget? In addition to incredible camera work, we also see Daniel Day-Lewis once again dare anyone to out-act him (reference the restaurant scene again). Fortunately no one tries, and the all-male cast is excellent. Will There Will Be Blood turn its late momentum into an Oscar win for Best Picture? I don't think it was the best movie I saw this year, but worse films than this have taken the top prize before.