Crude oil is a thick, black, contaminating liquid that’s capable of corrupting even the most loyal man. It’s a substance that is in a way, the embodiment of greed. Finding and using oil grants you immense wealth but often at the cost of the environment, family and sometimes sanity. Once you get a taste of it, there is no return. It can bring out the most primal of instincts, making you do things that you didn’t know you were capable of, sending you down a dark, downhill spiral. There Will Be Blood tells the story of its harrowing impact.
The first scene is reminiscent of the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both are dialogue-free and accompanied by a similar haunting score. The discovery of oil is akin to the apes in 2001 using tools for the first time. This was no coincidence, 2001 encapsulates the major evolutions of the human race. Paul Thomas Anderson is emphasising the importance of oil by creating these similarities between the two movies.
We follow Daniel Plainview, an oil prospector with an adopted son. He is masterfully played by Daniel Day-Lewis who earned a well-deserved Oscar for this performance. He’s by no means a likeable character but is so well written, acted and developed, it’s hard not to be captivated by watching him in action.
Plainview manipulates and uses everyone around him to get his success. He hates people getting the better of him, even if they do so accidentally through a poor choice of words. He’s not driven by money or the luxuries that come with it, he just wants to be on top. He has to be. His insatiable hunger for power means he cannot be bought out, bargained with or persuaded by anyone, even family. It’s a character that represents our inner selfish and envious desires. Plainview just happens to embrace them, at the cost of his sanity. After watching such a vile and remorseless man for over 2 hours, it starts to make you feel for him. He has everything and yet he has nothing. No friends, meaningful possessions or even real family.
Paul Dano plays rival to Plainview, Eli Sunday, an evangelical preacher who wants oil money for the use of his land to form a church. Both have a love/hate relationship, constantly trying to get the better of each other. Dano also puts in a great performance, his bewitching church sermons are truly enthralling to watch. Sunday is in a way, very similar to Plainview. He does not give up on his mission to get money for the church, doing almost anything it takes. The key difference here being ‘almost’, his one weakness, which Plainview abuses.
The cinematography by Robert Elswit is astounding. There is a scene in which an oil derrick is set alight, painting the screen in vibrant reds. As this happens we see a maddening, almost satanic grin on Plainview’s oil splattered face as he watches on. It’s a beautiful shot that sums up the whole movie.
I realise that this review is pretty much inundated with compliments but There Will Be Blood deserves it. There’s not really any faults that I can point out. Writing about the film has only helped to solidify my liking of it. It’s so unique in the way it tells its story that it doesn’t need to follow the usual format of cinema. It may seem slow at first but it’s a great experience that will grow on you even after you’ve finished watching.