Very rarely you come across a cinema that defines cinematic perfection from the first frame to the last, one that exhibits precision craftsmanship in even the smallest aspects of filmmaking, one that takes you on an unforgettable journey & leaves you absolutely speechless in the end, and for me, Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is one such picture that fits those attributes with remarkable simplicity. A jaw-dropping work of blazing originality, an extremely fascinating vignette of greed & obsession, and an immensely captivating character study that remains in a league of its own, There Will Be Blood is a haunting portrait of family, religion, hatred, oil & madness which not only marks an artistic high for its writer-director but is the very pinnacle of 21st century cinema that deserves to be ranked amongst the greatest films ever made.
Set during the times when America was just discovering oil, There Will Be Blood tells the story of a ruthless & cunning oilman named Daniel Plainview who in his quest for wealth becomes so obsessed with power & greed that he ends up completely destroying himself as well as those closest to him. The majority of plot takes place in Little Boston, California, where Daniel tries to buy out a ranch from the Sunday family, after being informed about oil deposits in the area by one of family’s estranged members, but their younger son, Eli, is able to see through Daniel’s real intentions and tries to intervene by asking for more money in order to finance his Church of which he is a preacher & a self-proclaimed faith-healer. The rest of the film captures both Plainview & Sunday clashing over matters of business & religion, which culminates with a climactic showdown.
Ever since introducing himself on the big stage during the late 90s with now-considered classics like Boogie Nights & Magnolia, Paul Thomas Anderson has been praised by many as one of the most gifted filmmakers of his generation & a true visionary of modern cinema. And with this feature, he further cements that reputation of his for There Will Be Blood presents the writer-director in sublime form & is a marvel of period filmmaking that I’d have no hesitation in calling his best work to date. The screenplay is inspired from Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel Oil!, yet deviates enough from the material to be not considered an adaptation. The story in the script is highly character-driven, is filled with interesting characters yet where this master storyteller leaves a lasting impression is in transitioning those pages on the silver screen with precise control over each aspect.
Coming to the technical aspects, every single element of the film manages to work in harmony with each other & is expertly carried out under the director’s supervision. The desolate locations it was shot at are reminiscent of the timeline this period drama is set in & its production design team has done a marvellous job in adding authenticity to even the smallest of details. Cinematography makes very effective use of slow zooms, steady movements, wide tracking or panning shots & long single-takes to capture each n every moment in meticulous detail, all of which is further enhanced by its perfect lighting & precise colour tones. Editing lets the story unfold at its own pace & throughout its 158 minutes of runtime, there exists not one moment that isn’t relevant to its plot. Composed by Jonny Greenwood, the background score is as unsettling as it is unconventional & carries a sinister layer of its own which seamlessly integrates with the film’s events.
Anderson once stated that he wishes to work with Daniel Day-Lewis & wrote the script with him in mind. Now, Daniel Day-Lewis needs no introduction for anyone who’s seen his earlier works knows his innate ability to get under the skin of his characters & play them from inside-out. Anderson had already done a great job in carving out & refining the character of Daniel Plainview but the sheer intensity & passion with which Day-Lewis brings Plainview to life simply transcends all expectations for it is an absolutely maddening, extraordinary & career-best performance from the actor who is only getting better with age, and this work from him almost single-handedly elevates an already great cinema to an even higher level of greatness. But there’s also strong supporting work from Dillon Freasier as H.W. Plainview; Daniel’s adopted son, & Paul Dano as Eli Sunday; a self-proclaimed prophet at the local church who matches Plainview with the same intent of flourishing their businesses, and the scenes between the two are an absolute delight.
On an overall scale, There Will Be Blood is one of the all-round perfect films of all time & certainly the most flawless work of 21st century cinema. It does benefit from Anderson’s ingenious direction & Day-Lewis’ towering performance but its immaculate set pieces, spellbinding photography, composed editing, unnerving score & other carefully executed elements also play a significant role in its success for the film’s true strength doesn’t come from what it narrates but the way it narrates it from the very beginning to the very end. Exploring the themes of greed, lies, manipulation, obsession & power, the film is an exquisitely detailed, fabulously layered & highly compelling sketch of an ambitious man who drains his humanity for power until all that’s left of him is nothing but an empty shell of a human being. An aesthetic, artistic & influential motion picture that pushes the cinematic art form into new realms, There Will Be Blood marks a pretty huge leap for both Anderson & Day-Lewis when compared to their previous works, and is cinema at its perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline & pure. Watch it twice, at least!