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There Will Be Blood

January 7th, 2019   |   Updated on March 30th, 2019

A story of family, religion, hatred, oil and madness, focusing on a turn-of-the-century prospector in the early days of the business.

The film follows the rise to power of Daniel Plainview – a charismatic and ruthless oil prospector, driven to succeed by his intense hatred of others and desperate need to see any and all competitors fail. When he learns of oil-rich land in California that can be bought cheaply, he moves his operation there and begins manipulating and exploiting the local landowners into selling him their property.

Using his young adopted son H.W. to project the image of a caring family man, Plainview gains the cooperation of almost all the locals with lofty promises to build schools and cultivate the land to make their community flourish. Over time, Plainview’s gradual accumulation of wealth and power causes his true self to surface, and he begins to slowly alienate himself from everyone in his life.

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Movie Reviews: “There Will Be Blood

Movie Review: Guardian

This movie is epic, but not in the usual manner. It is austere; Day-Lewis’s Plainview is in almost every shot, and often in close-up. A more conventional director would have tried a broadening out, establishing a context both for Plainview’s career and the oil rush generally, with huge crowds, CGI boom-towns and sequences in which Plainview would be attended by dozens of salaryman flunkies, the better to show his remarkable elevation.

In another sort of film, there might be some rich confectionery in the mix: some funny moments, maybe. Not here. Lonely, miserable, fuelled by resentment and hate, Plainview is seen mostly in the desert, appropriately, with only a few associates or alone. Anderson’s strangest touch is to have Eli Sunday and his more Mammon-worshipping brother Paul (the brother who alerts Plainview to the family’s oil in the first place) played by the same actor, Paul Dano.

It is a startling anti-realistic contrivance that is the director’s one authorial provocation: it actually creates a baffling moment of confusion at the beginning of the film. Like a wilful artist, Anderson splodges his own canvas with this unreality, perhaps paradoxically to demonstrate his own mastery, and perhaps to prevent being upstaged by his leading man.

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Movie Review: Time Magazine

That performance begins with a very curious voice. Plainview speaks with great syntactical precision in cultivated, almost mid-Atlantic tones that belie his early wildcatting ways. He sounds a lot like John Huston, the director-actor, when he was doing his best to persuade us of his sincerity. And, as with Huston, we can never be entirely certain whether he is playing us true or false.

When he is assembling the land for the oil field that will transform his fortune, make him not merely rich but super-rich, he speaks idealistically of a community, perhaps a new sort of civilization, he intends to build, and we don’t entirely disbelieve him. He passionately loves his son, who as a mere child is always introduced to people as Plainview’s “partner.” There is within him, I think, an authentic belief in the Gospel of Wealth, that old American doctrine holding that the rich man is but the steward of money, obligated to spend it for the benefit of all.

Two events sully Plainview’s idealism. His perfect son is grievously injured in an oil field accident, which slowly sunders their relationship and robs Daniel of the dynastic rationale for his depredations. Worse, he falls into opposition with a young fundamentalist preacher, Eli Sunday (the excellent Paul Dano) — also an idealist of sorts, but an irrational one. The preacher forces Daniel into a false, public conversion to his faith, which wipes out what remains of his faith in the perfectability of the people.

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Movie Review: Empire Magazine

There Will Be Blood

There Will Be Blood is emphatically not an easy watch. Before an image hits the screen, amounting, atonal string note assaults the viewer’s ears, immediately inducing a feeling of unease – if not actual nausea. That’s followed by 20-odd minutes of dialogue-free action. Two and a half hours later, it finishes with a scene that seems tonally so at odds with everything that has gone before, jars so horribly, that you’re afraid it’s scuppered the entire thing – until you go home, think about it for a day or two, and realise that it’s perfect. It won’t come to you immediately, but this may be a masterpiece.

This is a film full of such surprises. Despite being the first outing in four years for directorial wunderkind Paul Thomas Anderson, despite starring the oft-retired Daniel Day-Lewis, whose returns are usually the cause of critical celebration, There Will Be Blood seemed to arrive without anticipation, never mind fanfare. It skipped Cannes, Venice and Toronto, and screened quietly just before awards season. There’s a confidence to that strategy, a robust self-belief that could almost belong to the film’s Daniel Plainview, played by Day-Lewis in what is, even by his standards, an incredible performance.

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