An Appreciation – There Will Be Blood
Much of Daniel’s animosity is focused toward his main adversary in the movie, Eli Sunday (Paul Dano). Eli is the young, passionate preacher of the town church, whose sermons encompass loud and over-the-top gestures and screaming. Daniel and Eli make for odd rivals. For one thing, Eli is a twin, his brother Paul being the very person who told Daniel that there was oil near their town. When Daniel realizes that Eli is not the person he first met, I think the abnormal tension that is quickly established helps with the overall tone of the movie. From there, both Daniel and Eli butt heads continuously, with Daniel desiring to drill their land for his benefit, and Eli trying to gain whatever monetary retributions he can from Daniel to develop his church. Why does Daniel hate Eli so much? Because Daniel sees as much of himself in Eli as well. Eli preaches a life of humbleness and kindness to every person he meets, but Daniel realizes that Eli is just an actor also. Eli is just as greedy as Daniel; he resents the fact that Daniel is drilling and yet uses the wealth Daniel gives him for his own purposes. See how Eli’s church goes from a small shack to its nicer renovated state, and wonder how that came to be.
Daniel and Eli are different in their physical appearances, with one being a grown, older man and the other a youth with baby face features. Yet they are much the same in their motivations. They both desire money to the point of blinding themselves from anything else. This all climaxes at the very end of the movie. We find Daniel, broken and alone, with a large mansion all to himself, with only his madness to accompany him. Eli visits him, with a business proposition that he feels could benefit both of them. Note that Daniel only accepts the terms of the deal if Eli proclaims himself to be a false prophet. Notice as well how easily Eli agrees to do this. Eli is so greedy for his own success that he would be willing to disown everything that he stood to represent. And in that way, Daniel has broken him. I’ve read much about the criticisms of the final scene between these two men, how it seems to be tacked on to the rest of the movie. I feel that the end is appropriate and fitting. Daniel is a person who is so unwavering, so steadfast to his own ambition and selfishness, that the end of his story can only lead to insanity and absurdity. Eli is a phony, a fake who only pretended to be better than who he really was, and would eventually become exposed and punished for it. Their fates were never destined to end well, regardless of how much success either of them would achieve.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s direction in the film is keen and controlled. There is as much energy and enthusiasm here as in Anderson’s other work, but it’s not as sprawling or loosely constructed as Boogie Nights (1997) or Magnolia (1999). I feel Anderson is becoming more and more mature with his filmmaking style. This film, which is so completely and unquestionably coming from this particular director in its craftsmanship, does not lean as much on Anderson’s obvious cinematic influences as his other projects. And in that way, we can argue that this is made more in his own technique than compared to his earlier career. The camerawork by Robert Elswit is stylized and free flowing, but is aware of when to slow down and be still to capture small details. We have sweeping shots of the landscapes and rolling hills of the surrounding environment, but we also have the quiet subtlety of the frame during scenes of conversation. The set and art decoration places these people in a world of harsh minimalism, with deep browns and yellows dominating the color scheme. The music by Jonny Greenwood has less of a melody than a mood, where sharp and loud sounds combine with low, rhythmic underscores to contribute an unsettling, nightmarish feel.
One of the continuous themes seen in Anderson’s work is the idea of family. He examines the core of family values, often times from those that are broken or dysfunctional. In Boogie Nights, Mark Wahlberg’s character escapes his troubled family home and enters another “family” of sorts in Burt Reynold’s porn production company. The idea of family is in the forefront of Magnolia, where nearly every character in the film attempts to reconnect or is on the verge of breaking apart with their loved ones, all tied together within a strange and religiously-toned construct. In Punch-Drunk Love (2002), Adam Sandler’s character is incessantly teased and pushed around by his numerous sisters. That theme is revisited once again here, where Daniel’s idea of family takes a back seat in favor of his capitalistic nature. One may wonder why Anderson decided to adapt the Upton Sinclair novel Oil!, but in my viewpoint, this kind of story is completely within his wheelhouse. As Anderson points out in the closing passages of the film—with Daniel’s final meeting with H.W. and the short flashback that follows it—we do see that Daniel wishes there to be loved ones in his life, despite the fact that he simply will not allow himself that luxury. Through his own greed and hatred, Daniel abandons whatever chance he has for normalcy, and replaces it with world of mania and paranoia.
The main character of There Will Be Blood is a larger than life person. If performed incorrectly by an actor, Daniel Plainview could have come off more comical and ham-handed, and thus unbelievable. It’s hard to think that any other actor besides Daniel Day-Lewis could have walked that line more perfectly. Day-Lewis is arguably the best actor on the planet, who has made a reputation of disappearing in to his roles. From the way that he talks to his manners and facial expressions, each of his performances is distinctly unique from one another. Compare this film to his work in My Left Foot (1989), The Age of Innocence (1993), or Gangs of New York (2002), and try to pinpoint the similarities. Here, Day-Lewis goes for a gnarling, grimacing, scene-chewing depiction of an evil man. With his large mustache, squinty eyes, and the almost gothic way that he carries himself, Day-Lewis has created a character who is just as epic as the film he is in. It’s almost a miracle that the other actors stand out when performing in the same scene with him, and that’s a testament to how great everyone else is. Day-Lewis gives one of the best performances of recent memory here, in one of the best films of the new century.