My Week With PT Anderson, Day Five: There Will Be Blood

Jeff takes a look at the film that won Daniel Day-Lewis his second Best Actor Oscar.

There Will Be Blood (2007)

91%

With his fourth film, Punch-Drunk Love, P.T. Anderson took a step back from the large ensemble casts, grand statements, and inflated running times of Magnolia and Boogie Nights -- but that didn't mean he was content to keep serving up 90-minute love stories, as he'd emphatically prove with his next outing, 2007's There Will Be Blood.

Vast and dark, Blood begins in near-total silence -- in fact, for the first 20 minutes, there isn't any dialogue at all, just shots of an impressively hirsute prospector whacking away at a mountain in search of minerals.

That prospector, we soon learn, is Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), and he's a bootstrapper's dream -- shrewd and driven, and as cunningly hostile to his fellow human beings as he is to the earth. In Magnolia, Anderson winked at Nietzsche's "will to power" by having Tom Cruise's character take the stage to the strains of "Also Sprach Zarathustra"; here, he uses Plainview to pretty much embody the concept, using everything and everyone as a tool or an object of conquest. As he says at one point early in the film, "Can everything around here be got?"

Plainview eventually begins to accrue wealth as an oilman, and when one of his workers dies in an accident, he makes what seems at the time to be a humanizing gesture, adopting the fallen man's infant son. Over time, he molds the boy, who he names H.W., into a miniature business partner who travels with him on land-purchasing expeditions -- such as his fateful trip to the oil-rich homestead of an old farmer named Abel Sunday (David Willis).

Their acquisition of the Sunday farm (and basically all of the available land in the area) sets up the movie's driving conflict -- between the power-hungry Plainview and Sunday's son Eli (Paul Dano), a pastor whose church becomes the cudgel in a long and nasty war.

Of course, Anderson being Anderson, the viewer can (and probably should) read more into all this than just a couple of bossy Old West frontiersmen who can't get along. Viewed from another perspective, There Will Be Blood is really a sprawling depiction of a battle that's preoccupied America for decades: Implacable faith versus unquenchable greed; the laying on of hands versus pie-in-the-sky promises of business "progress"; religious fervor versus cold commerce.

What's sneaky about Anderson's approach is that he forces you to take sides in a battle where there really isn't any good guy. For a filmmaker who's always treated his characters with warmth and affection, Blood is a shockingly cold appraisal of fatally flawed protagonists -- you have Plainview the brutal, weaselly capitalist on one side, and Sunday the obnoxiously pious preacher on the other, both of them abusive and cruel in their own way.

The movie also finds Anderson's preoccupation with daddy issues returning to the fore; There Will Be Blood could just as easily have been titled The Sins of the Father. It pits those who expect to exert their will upon the world against those who merely hope to survive, with the weak and the young damaged and crushed -- sometimes quite literally -- along the way.

It's a ruthless view of the world, but one that Anderson still frames beautifully. While his camera is far less antsy here than it has been since Hard Eight, his restraint makes sense in the context of the sweeping mountain vistas where the movie largely takes place. And as always, his shots express a point of view. He's still fond of shooting his characters from behind, so we see what they see -- as in a pivotal sequence where Plainview commits a heart-wrenching act of betrayal, and the focus lingers on what he's leaving behind.

He's also always been adept at building an atmosphere of mounting dread and punctuating it with shocking bursts of violence -- and that's a pretty good nutshell description of this film, which forges a chain of humiliation and death into a final act that presents its putative hero as a reclusive, embittered madman, engorged on wealth but starved for love, and his nemesis as a craven fraud. The viewer gets a milkshake, an appalling act of violence, and then -- as the movie's last lines put it -- "I'm finished."

We all know what happened next: Critics fell all over themselves to praise There Will Be Blood, Oscars were won, and many end-of-year lists were topped. It's easy to see why -- this is a visually gorgeous film, acted with finely calibrated abandon by Day-Lewis and Dano, and it certainly lingers long after the final frame is unspooled. But it's possible to appreciate the technical skill that's been brought to bear on a work of art without actually embracing the work itself, and that's the position I find myself in with Blood. It isn't just that I find its point of view repugnant, it's that I don't think Anderson backs up his arguments about the human condition -- or maybe, even more disconcertingly, he isn't even trying to. At times, the movie feels like nothing more than an elaborately staged battle between a pair of unthinking creatures -- like putting two betta fish in the same bowl, only with great cinematography and a lot of senseless collateral damage.

Am I thinking too much here? Is Anderson fatigue starting to set in? Or am I just not sophisticated enough to hang on for the ride with a director who's clearly lost his taste for good old-fashioned catharsis in the final act? Something tells me The Master will answer at least some of those questions.


See more:

Monday: Hard Eight

Tuesday: Boogie Nights

Wednesday: Magnolia

Thursday: Punch-Drunk Love

Friday: There Will Be Blood

Saturday: The Master

Comments

This comment has been removed.

maaaaaario

El Duderino

Right. This from someone whose only other contribution here was to comment that Lethal Weapon 4 (52%)should have been considered as one of Danny DeVito's best films.

Sep 21 - 07:39 PM

Lauren Katherine

Lauren Katherine

Just stating my opinion, what's wrong with that
p.s. Danny DeVito wasn't in Lethal Weapon 4, it was lethal Waepon 5
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjhV1DavSRM&list=FLKVtQTy52fczqWmMvps26xQ&index=3&feature=plpp_video

Sep 21 - 11:04 PM

Gary Qu

Gary Qu

Nothing wrong with stating your opinion. Going "OVERRATED!!!!!" without an argument or point makes you look pretty silly though.

Sep 22 - 06:42 AM

Dana Sebi

Dana Sebi

Normally I am against ad hominem, but Danny Devito in a Lethal weapon? hahahaha!!

Sep 23 - 03:38 PM

Valmordas

Val Mordas

While the movie itself I found plodding and meandering, Daniel Day-Lewis's performance was enough to carry me through the film.

Sep 22 - 07:15 AM

Myron

Myron Kinsey

*Claims something to be overrated, gives no insightful explanation as to why*, in other words, TROLL!!

Sep 22 - 09:10 PM

Jonathan Orozco

Jonathan Orozco

You obviously didn't get the movie didn't you?

Sep 23 - 12:35 PM

Brian B.

Brian Barreto

One of my all-time favorites. This is PTA's best film, in my opinion. :)

Sep 21 - 05:41 PM

Zac Mackey

Zac Mackey

Agreed. This movie is phenomenal.

Sep 21 - 07:15 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

I agree that PTA isn't trying to settle the score between the two. He's showing the brutality of one (capitalism) and the hypocrisy of the other (religion) and despite the ending here, showing how well they've managed to use each other to get what they want. Which is blood.

Sep 21 - 06:49 PM

Alex Reyes

Alex Reyes

I agree, but also agree with the critic, it seems more concerned with the superficial, even romantic part of the whole, orat least the movie is so busy with that superficial part the forgets the real issues and people involved. Also, for such a squarely symbolic movie as it turns out to be at the end, capitalism trumping religion in the final scene was just an easy exit, one that proves that squareness and makes the whole feel like just an exercise, an Orwell Farm. I still LOVE the movie, there is so much to appreciate, but I also do agree with the critic here and there are issues in it that bother me a little for a such a great film. It is a movie that is easy to be impressed about, it shouts and desperately promotes its artsiness, magnificence and solemnity, but it lacks that more secure, more knowing ease the Coens showed that year with their seemingly impeccable main competitor of TWBB for best movie in most conversations.

Sep 25 - 08:59 PM

Zac Mackey

Zac Mackey

Agreed. This movie is phenomenal.

Sep 21 - 07:15 PM

maaaaaario

El Duderino

Right. This from someone whose only other contribution here was to comment that Lethal Weapon 4 (52%)should have been considered as one of Danny DeVito's best films.

Sep 21 - 07:39 PM

Lauren Katherine

Lauren Katherine

Just stating my opinion, what's wrong with that
p.s. Danny DeVito wasn't in Lethal Weapon 4, it was lethal Waepon 5
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjhV1DavSRM&list=FLKVtQTy52fczqWmMvps26xQ&index=3&feature=plpp_video

Sep 21 - 11:04 PM

Gary Qu

Gary Qu

Nothing wrong with stating your opinion. Going "OVERRATED!!!!!" without an argument or point makes you look pretty silly though.

Sep 22 - 06:42 AM

Dana Sebi

Dana Sebi

Normally I am against ad hominem, but Danny Devito in a Lethal weapon? hahahaha!!

Sep 23 - 03:38 PM

Tobias Inglenook

Tobias Inglenook

I think that in some stories, the best way to convey compassion is to introduce us to non-compassionate people and show the consequences of their actions. Perhaps seeing awful people mistreat one another isn't really a heartwarming experience, but I think this movie has a fundamentally moral core. It's kind of like an old fairy tale in which rotten characters get their comeuppance; it just happens to be framed within the context of American history. I thought of this movie as Anderson's way of explaining to the audience what kinds of people he believes rise to power in our society, how they get there, and what the fallout of their selfishness is likely to be. In my opinion, Boogie Nights- which is my favorite Anderson film and easily the most immediately engaging- is actually a far more cynical and nihilistic piece. In that case, we meet kind people who face the painful consequences of other people's actions rather than their own. But that's just me, I guess.

Sep 21 - 07:57 PM

robbie h.

robbie helton

I have analyzed this film from every possible angle I can think of. The biblical symbolism in this movie and allegorical elements are simply phenomenal. I definitely understand this movie isn't for everyone but if you are one of those people that loves to rewatch movies to pick out all the themes this is definitely one you can look at forever. How can a person say this film is overrated? Daniel Day Lewis almost literally physically transforms. Look at how great his posture is. Look at how arthritic his hands become as the film progresses. It's just great. I think it's EASILY the best movie of the new millennium.

Sep 21 - 07:59 PM

Sarmad Khan

Sarmad Khan

Perhaps the film can also be seen as a parable for the struggle of resources in the middle east, and the religious extremes that lie there?

Sep 21 - 08:00 PM

robbie h.

robbie helton

I think the end line of the film is great because it shows exactly how far in to madness Daniel has descended. T

Sep 21 - 08:01 PM

Seth Hoskins

Seth Hoskins

You're definitely thinking too much, but this is interesting nonetheless.

Sep 21 - 08:02 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

What are you, the thought police? Exactly how much is too much? Einstein?

Sep 25 - 12:47 PM

robbie h.

robbie helton

I think the last line of the film is so great because it shows how far in to madness Daniel has descended. His butler is trying to wake him up for breakfast and can't do it. Finally when Eli comes down and does wake him up ofcourse he winds up beating him to death. But during the scene he's nibbling little by little. Then when Eli is dead his butler walks back down and Daniel says "I'm finished". That is black humor at it's best for me. It's just another morning to Daniel.

Sep 21 - 08:04 PM

Alterick Mcgee

Alterick Mcgee

Brilliant film should be considered a modern classic among the likes of citizen Kane and Akira kurosawas Seven Samurai, great character development and thought provoking screenplay that sticks with you way after the credits roll, and boy does Daniel Day lewis play the pants off of Daniel plainview a must watch for any lover of films.

Sep 21 - 09:01 PM

Nigel Simmons

Nigel Simmons

Thing I love about this movie and his others is the ambiguous nature of the "theme". There's room for interpretation, as with many great works of art. It's refreshing to have a director like Anderson who doesn't beat you over the head over and over again with a prescribed set "message" or "meaning" behind the movie, and intentionally backs off and lets the viewer decide for themselves how they want to interpret the story.

Sep 21 - 10:12 PM

Lauren Katherine

Lauren Katherine

Just stating my opinion, what's wrong with that
p.s. Danny DeVito wasn't in Lethal Weapon 4, it was lethal Waepon 5
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjhV1DavSRM&list=FLKVtQTy52fczqWmMvps26xQ&index=3&feature=plpp_video

Sep 21 - 11:04 PM

Gary Qu

Gary Qu

Nothing wrong with stating your opinion. Going "OVERRATED!!!!!" without an argument or point makes you look pretty silly though.

Sep 22 - 06:42 AM

Myron

Myron Kinsey

One of my top five favorite films of all time. I have watched it at least twice a year since it first came out and I am still fascinated by it. Paul T. Anderson's There will be blood is one the most beautiful, horrifying, strange, saddening, and absurd films I have ever laid eyes on and it confirms why Daniel day Lewis is a titan of an actor and Paul T. Anderson's bloody genius.

Sep 22 - 01:39 AM

Magic Mike

Mulholland Driver

You're just not sophisticated enough.

Sep 22 - 04:22 AM

Adriano Vazquez

Adriano Vazquez

It doesn't take a genius to point out this movies flaws. It's actually the only PTA film I was disappointed with and have spoken negative about. To the point where people drink the kool-aid and say the same thing when it comes to overly gushing when it comes to this film. I felt like no country for old men was flawless where this was not. I agree with this review. But in terms of PTA's best work, THE MASTER and MAGNOLIA are my personal favorites. If I see a better film this year than The Master, I'll be shocked

Sep 22 - 04:38 AM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

kool aid = opinions I don't agree with

Sep 25 - 12:49 PM

Gary Qu

Gary Qu

Nothing wrong with stating your opinion. Going "OVERRATED!!!!!" without an argument or point makes you look pretty silly though.

Sep 22 - 06:42 AM

Shiva the God of Death

Noah F

I also feel the film is overrated, and that Magnolia is certainly superior. I've always been iffy on Day-Lewis. I feel he's weak in The Crucible, and over-the-top at times here. My Left Foot is the best example of him at his best. As for the rest of the film, while most may argue that there is meaning, and like the article states, there's a battle between capitalism and religion, I don't find any of it in the film. I feel it's ultimately a dead film. Religion and capitalism can result in horrible things, as the last ten years have shown in spades, but that doesn't change the fact that there are many good people in both religion and capitalism (I feel I'm stretching with capitalism, but whatever). Perhaps if PT had included anecdotes to humanize the film some, I would approve more. But to me, this film is just a mean-spirited vulgar attack on these things. And that's coming from someone who daily loses hope in humanity (only to gain it back again). One last note: I feel the film is poorly paced. Not awfully, but compared to No Country for Old Men, it is lacking.

Sep 22 - 07:08 AM

Valmordas

Val Mordas

I've always been iffy on Day-Lewis.

Gotta disagree. Day-Lewis is one of the few actors in Hollywood who can actually carry a film almost by himself. Without him, 'There Will Be Blood' goes rotten.

Sep 22 - 07:18 AM

Shiva the God of Death

Noah F

Well, I definitely think he can carry films. He's very interesting to watch. But he's too over-the-top for me sometimes. He's a good actor, for sure, just, there's something I don't quite like.

Sep 22 - 07:34 AM

Myron

Myron Kinsey

I think you are also stretching it by saying that their are good people in religion as well. Also you completely missed the point, the film isn't about religion or capitalism as much as it is about megalomania. Capitalism and religion are just the vessels these characters use (abuse) to flaunt their charisma and exploit the masses for their own benefit. With technical brilliance, artistic mastery, and amazing performances (really Daniel Day Lewis iffy? Really?)There will be blood IS NOT a overrated film (and you not liking it doesn't make it so either), it deserves it praise, which can't be said about many films these days.

Sep 22 - 10:43 AM

Shiva the God of Death

Noah F

First off, I said I'm iffy on Day Lewis. Second, I was simply citing what the article finds in the film, and how I feel that if that is the point, it's a failed film. Finally, just because I feel it's overrated doesn't mean I think it's bad. It is a very well made film, not the best though. I feel that Day-Lewis is definitely enthralling, but that I don't know how good his performance actually is.

But, if the film is about meglomania, and not religion and capitalism, why is it that it pits the two meglomaniacs against each other in the end, with a definite winner? Doesn't that enforce the idea of religion vs. capitalism?

And by the way, if me thinking it's overrated doesn't make it overrated (which, by the way, I consistently stated opinions over claims [I feel; to me; etc]), then you thinking it isn't overrated doesn't make it not. I'm sorry you were so thoroughly offended by my less than vicious attack on one of your favorite films, but this is film criticism. Opinions will differ.

Sep 22 - 01:18 PM

Myron

Myron Kinsey

No it doesn't enforce the idea of capitalism vs religion, mainly because there is not "definite" winner (not even in the figurative sense), the point is that they both lose. Everything is just resolves itself at the end. Daniel killing Eli doesn't mean he "won" it merely meant he killed him. The essence of victory is one of celebration and a sense of achievement; when Daniel kills Eli he simply claims to be "finished". After the hardships, mania, and sacrifices, he is completely void of any sense of achievement.

Once again, religion and capitalism are nothing more than vessels in this film and could have easily been substituted for something else, you shouldn't read to much into those themes.
Another thing to note, basing ones opinion does not qualify that a film is "overrated". I did not say the film isn't overrated because I said so, I said the film is worthy of its praise because of the shear artistic, poetic, and technical mastery of it (and not just me, just read the reviews). There is a reason why it was nominated for all those Oscars.

Sep 22 - 09:09 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

Myron's right. The film is not about impersonal ideologies like religion and capitalism. These are simply the mutually beneficial embodiments to satisfy the characters' desire for dominance. And DDL does not win. He lost his child, who is what the film is really about.

Sep 25 - 12:57 PM

Shiva the God of Death

Noah F

Janson, it's been three days since anyone said anything. Come on man.

Sep 25 - 02:01 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

So? What difference does three days make? You're obviously still reading the thread. Sorry I actually had social stuff to keep me away from RT this weekend (like watch "The Master"). Myron's still right. There's no expiration date on his common sense.

Sep 25 - 02:25 PM

This comment has been removed.

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

Unlike Jim Jones and Fred Phelps. But I agree with your protest. Humans make the religion; the religion doesn't make the humans. The quality of the religion is based on what you bring to it.

Sep 25 - 12:54 PM

Dave J

Dave J

No, I respectfully disagree, "Magnolia" dwells much on it's actors overacting to the point of unecessarry embarrasment. "There Will Be Blood" is a metaphor of capitalism and a reflection about what's goes on as of right now. BP spill and coal mining etc... There is absolutley no comparison between the two films for if "No Country..." wasn't released at the same year, "There will Be Blood" would've been next in line to win.

Yes, the Daniel Day Lewis character is manipulative and vulgar but so is Bernie Madoff and most capitalists who'd fire long time loyal employees who're close to reaching their pensions- it's a true reflection about life.

Sep 24 - 01:50 PM

Shiva the God of Death

Noah F

First Dave, I'm not entirely sure what that post about Day-Lewis's character being vulgar and manipulative with anecdotes had to do with anything, but whatever.

I think Magnolia's acting is far superior to this film. Or most films. I don't see it as overacting at all.

And Dave, I respectfully disagree with everything you've said. I don't really care to argue about it though, as you can see I just kind of gave up on a prior argument I was in. They're frustrating and pointless. No one actually converts anyone in rottentomatoes comment sections.

Sep 25 - 02:10 PM

Dave J

Dave J

I was just responding to your comment on the film in general, or as I interpreted was about one person played by Daniel Day Lewis since it's more about him than it is about the other characters when you stated that it's "mean-spirited vulgar attack on these things" which was how it used to be even though the characters are made up, I feel that it's accurate in terms of how capitalists are portrayed during the time when a demand for oil was high. The other oil film that is somewhat similar is a film made in 1949 called "Tulsa"!

"I think Magnolia's acting is far superior to this film. Or most films. I don't see it as overacting at all."

I was only referring about the 'loud' screaming and the bawling I think the most annoying was the Julianne Moore character which felt way too long and to a cringing effect, but again like "you" said earlier I'm only a minority on this.

Sep 25 - 03:30 PM

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