Recommended Viewing Situation:
In one of those retro bowling alleys, with a whiskey. Or a milkshake with a really long straw.
Running time: 152 minutes.
Format: 35mm Kodak Vision 2383 film on Panavision Panaflex Millennium XL and Panavision Panaflex Platinum.
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson.
Writer: Upton Sinclair and Paul Thomas Anderson.
Cinematography: Robert Elswit.
Awards: Academy Award for Best Actor, Daniel Day-Lewis (2007); Academy Award for Best Cinematography, Robert Elswit (2007); Berlin International Film Festival Silver Bear award for Best Director, Paul Thomas Anderson (2008); Silver Bear award for Outstanding Artistic Contribution (Music), Jonny Greenwood (2008); BAFTA for Best Actor, Daniel Day-Lewis (2008).
Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece, There will be Blood (2007), opens with a dissonant wail evocative of an Aeolian harp, or of an approaching swarm of bees. The unseen star of the film is Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead fame, whose unforgettable score, at once unexpected and entirely befitting the plot, induces anxiety with the speed and intensity you might expect trapped in a lift with your ex, who is explaining to you why ALL lives matter. Greenwood continues his masterful handling of tension with violin strains reminiscent of Gustav Mahler, always promising the approach of disaster.
Inspired by Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil! (itself, largely based on real events and people during Southern California’s oil boom at the turn of the twentieth century), There will be Blood follows Daniel Plainview’s (Daniel Day-Lewis) part in the development of the oil industry in North America, from his early embodiment of the American Dream to his later success and the trials that accompany it. His battle with the earnest Eli Sunday (Paul Dano, who reportedly had under a week to prepare for his role due to a change in cast, while Daniel Day-Lewis had a year to prepare for his.), a power hungry young preacher, draws an uncomfortable parallel between the church and big business. While, in terms of plot, little occurs during the film’s 152 minutes, Day-Lewis’ and Dano’s electrifying performances keep the viewer transfixed; though it would be wrong to say that There will be Blood is lacking in story, its real strengths are its examinations of character and relationships. It is a catalogue of manipulative behaviours and a study in moral relativity; as the charismatic Plainview gains the viewer’s support early on in the film, his self-serving disregard of social mores becomes jarring as the film progresses. It is painful to watch as Plainview’s apparent affection for his adopted son, H.W. (Dillon Freasier, Russell Harvard), and his tough love approach to parenting are revealed as aspects of his long-term business plan.
There is little dialogue in There will be Blood; there are few central characters, one of which is deaf for a majority of the film, and even well known actor Ciarán Hinds plays a minimal role. We are shown, not told the story, and in the showing, Anderson takes great risks, holding shots for painfully long stretches, allowing the viewer to observe the silent exchanges between characters, the danger inherent in drilling for oil, and H.W.’s watchfulness as he learns his father’s trade. Uniquely, we are not invited to watch, with constant action and distracting subplots, but rather compelled to, by the dusty quality of the film which evokes California, by the clarity of the sound as oil bubbles up around a pile driver, and by the physical discomfort created by the film’s music. This approach ensures that we experience the story, rather than passively view it. Watching this film is a feat in the art of waiting – for there to be blood. It’s worth the wait.