My Week With PT Anderson, Day Five: There Will Be Blood

Jeff takes a look at the film that won Daniel Day-Lewis his second Best Actor Oscar.

by | September 21, 2012 | Comments



There Will Be Blood (2007)

91%

With his fourth film, Punch-Drunk Love, P.T. Anderson took a step back from the large ensemble casts, grand statements, and inflated running times of Magnolia and Boogie Nights — but that didn’t mean he was content to keep serving up 90-minute love stories, as he’d emphatically prove with his next outing, 2007’s There Will Be Blood.

Vast and dark, Blood begins in near-total silence — in fact, for the first 20 minutes, there isn’t any dialogue at all, just shots of an impressively hirsute prospector whacking away at a mountain in search of minerals.

That prospector, we soon learn, is Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), and he’s a bootstrapper’s dream — shrewd and driven, and as cunningly hostile to his fellow human beings as he is to the earth. In Magnolia, Anderson winked at Nietzsche’s “will to power” by having Tom Cruise’s character take the stage to the strains of “Also Sprach Zarathustra”; here, he uses Plainview to pretty much embody the concept, using everything and everyone as a tool or an object of conquest. As he says at one point early in the film, “Can everything around here be got?”

Plainview eventually begins to accrue wealth as an oilman, and when one of his workers dies in an accident, he makes what seems at the time to be a humanizing gesture, adopting the fallen man’s infant son. Over time, he molds the boy, who he names H.W., into a miniature business partner who travels with him on land-purchasing expeditions — such as his fateful trip to the oil-rich homestead of an old farmer named Abel Sunday (David Willis).

Their acquisition of the Sunday farm (and basically all of the available land in the area) sets up the movie’s driving conflict — between the power-hungry Plainview and Sunday’s son Eli (Paul Dano), a pastor whose church becomes the cudgel in a long and nasty war.

Of course, Anderson being Anderson, the viewer can (and probably should) read more into all this than just a couple of bossy Old West frontiersmen who can’t get along. Viewed from another perspective, There Will Be Blood is really a sprawling depiction of a battle that’s preoccupied America for decades: Implacable faith versus unquenchable greed; the laying on of hands versus pie-in-the-sky promises of business “progress”; religious fervor versus cold commerce.

What’s sneaky about Anderson’s approach is that he forces you to take sides in a battle where there really isn’t any good guy. For a filmmaker who’s always treated his characters with warmth and affection, Blood is a shockingly cold appraisal of fatally flawed protagonists — you have Plainview the brutal, weaselly capitalist on one side, and Sunday the obnoxiously pious preacher on the other, both of them abusive and cruel in their own way.

The movie also finds Anderson’s preoccupation with daddy issues returning to the fore; There Will Be Blood could just as easily have been titled The Sins of the Father. It pits those who expect to exert their will upon the world against those who merely hope to survive, with the weak and the young damaged and crushed — sometimes quite literally — along the way.



It’s a ruthless view of the world, but one that Anderson still frames beautifully. While his camera is far less antsy here than it has been since Hard Eight, his restraint makes sense in the context of the sweeping mountain vistas where the movie largely takes place. And as always, his shots express a point of view. He’s still fond of shooting his characters from behind, so we see what they see — as in a pivotal sequence where Plainview commits a heart-wrenching act of betrayal, and the focus lingers on what he’s leaving behind.

He’s also always been adept at building an atmosphere of mounting dread and punctuating it with shocking bursts of violence — and that’s a pretty good nutshell description of this film, which forges a chain of humiliation and death into a final act that presents its putative hero as a reclusive, embittered madman, engorged on wealth but starved for love, and his nemesis as a craven fraud. The viewer gets a milkshake, an appalling act of violence, and then — as the movie’s last lines put it — “I’m finished.”

We all know what happened next: Critics fell all over themselves to praise There Will Be Blood, Oscars were won, and many end-of-year lists were topped. It’s easy to see why — this is a visually gorgeous film, acted with finely calibrated abandon by Day-Lewis and Dano, and it certainly lingers long after the final frame is unspooled. But it’s possible to appreciate the technical skill that’s been brought to bear on a work of art without actually embracing the work itself, and that’s the position I find myself in with Blood. It isn’t just that I find its point of view repugnant, it’s that I don’t think Anderson backs up his arguments about the human condition — or maybe, even more disconcertingly, he isn’t even trying to. At times, the movie feels like nothing more than an elaborately staged battle between a pair of unthinking creatures — like putting two betta fish in the same bowl, only with great cinematography and a lot of senseless collateral damage.

Am I thinking too much here? Is Anderson fatigue starting to set in? Or am I just not sophisticated enough to hang on for the ride with a director who’s clearly lost his taste for good old-fashioned catharsis in the final act? Something tells me The Master will answer at least some of those questions.


See more:

Monday: Hard Eight

Tuesday: Boogie Nights

Wednesday: Magnolia

Thursday: Punch-Drunk Love

Friday: There Will Be Blood

Saturday: The Master

Tag Cloud

E3 DirecTV Shudder comiccon The CW Bravo Amazon Prime Video finale ITV Character Guide Walt Disney Pictures diversity Podcast canceled dragons Box Office Mary Poppins Returns Cosplay Classic Film harry potter CW Seed dc Superheroe Calendar Creative Arts Emmys Pop versus National Geographic christmas movies talk show Stephen King blockbuster Rock SXSW CNN Disney+ Disney Plus TCA Emmys medical drama cops The Witch slashers foreign Netflix Christmas movies Fall TV Captain marvel Countdown TV renewals Quiz GIFs Ghostbusters true crime Lucasfilm Marvel Television Emmy Nominations movies Thanksgiving Cartoon Network 2016 Video Games Sci-Fi jamie lee curtis werewolf biography Paramount Network 45 hist 2015 FX kids Epix LGBT sitcom YouTube travel aliens MSNBC disaster The Arrangement robots Shondaland comics Writers Guild of America Country political drama mutant Polls and Games Horror Anna Paquin Comedy Central free movies composers Red Carpet CMT adaptation BBC cancelled television Acorn TV strong female leads Mary poppins Syfy children's TV doctor who Apple TV Plus golden globes Sneak Peek Winners television rotten movies we love TruTV Summer festivals Hallmark breaking bad spy thriller Dark Horse Comics Food Network tv talk cancelled TV shows FXX animated VH1 Super Bowl nature Comics on TV zombies Interview Oscars spinoff Marathons Brie Larson History historical drama WGN Valentine's Day witnail anthology Hallmark Christmas movies Esquire Nominations Teen cats Spike Superheroes DC Comics Apple Western Trophy Talk Adult Swim Pet Sematary TV Chernobyl Freeform Star Trek vampires Sundance Now casting joker Extras batman Cannes Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt award winner facebook Watching Series Photos teaser 2020 war Star Wars Showtime TLC Amazon Nat Geo DC Universe series Reality A&E mockumentary canceled TV shows Women's History Month American Society of Cinematographers Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Election CBS cooking MCU boxoffice Tomatazos crime spanish language Black Mirror Vudu quibi SundanceTV cinemax E! Pirates Rocky Netflix FOX BBC America dceu Crunchyroll X-Men unscripted Paramount Heroines sequel Disney Plus zero dark thirty HBO Max Lionsgate based on movie First Reviews Action politics natural history game show psycho thriller Mystery ghosts Sony Pictures police drama crime thriller IFC Films USA Network LGBTQ Toys technology cults OWN First Look Tarantino Turner Classic Movies 24 frames NYCC Disney Awards Starz Musical Rocketman Best and Worst crossover spider-man Premiere Dates 21st Century Fox book Logo ABC Family USA Grammys Pride Month 71st Emmy Awards binge Comedy Song of Ice and Fire Trivia south america hispanic TCM TIFF Ellie Kemper Tumblr The Walking Dead science fiction 2017 Family Biopics Film Certified Fresh romance Spectrum Originals YouTube Red Lifetime Christmas movies New York Comic Con adventure GLAAD San Diego Comic-Con screenings Mudbound Warner Bros. period drama Film Festival ESPN revenge Martial Arts cancelled CBS All Access Hulu El Rey Crackle TCA 2017 discovery Music blaxploitation social media serial killer Arrowverse Mary Tyler Moore Apple TV+ APB 20th Century Fox Schedule Amazon Prime ABC toy story Turner Infographic Set visit indie anime 2018 Marvel Studios NBC game of thrones YouTube Premium Year in Review See It Skip It green book richard e. Grant cartoon psychological thriller WarnerMedia VICE Opinion IFC stand-up comedy GoT Pixar supernatural Winter TV zombie romantic comedy Holidays Comic Book renewed TV shows Peacock Awards Tour HBO BET latino cancelled TV series Television Academy DGA independent Binge Guide RT History docudrama space Columbia Pictures Fox News streaming Kids & Family transformers Christmas TNT The Purge PBS Lifetime crime drama RT21 Holiday 007 Rom-Com halloween Mindy Kaling A24 TBS Drama YA ratings President Marvel Universal video theme song TV Land 2019 Sundance DC streaming service Disney Channel comic dramedy Spring TV miniseries sports Ovation Britbox Nickelodeon Elton John AMC singing competition PaleyFest Masterpiece Fantasy MTV justice league cars SDCC Trailer what to watch Reality Competition Musicals Disney streaming service Animation spain elevated horror