Come and listen to a story about a man named…


Daniel Plainview is a mammoth of a character. Consumed by contempt for his fellow man and an insatiable desire to possess and control more than anyone around him, the oilman played by Daniel Day-Lewis in Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is terrifying. There are moments when he seems to be a reasonable, even loving man; it becomes clear that the appearance of these other facets and emotions is only a means to an end.

Plainview’s nemesis is an evangelical boy preacher named Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), an equally fascinating character. He commands a creepy amount of control over his town and his congregation, and his inability to reach that same level with Plainview causes him to do some desperate things. The clash between the two is unpredictable and satisfying.

However, what didn’t satisfy me was the film’s lack of explanation for these characters’ devotion to their greed. I am not asking for cheesy childhood flashbacks or something like that, but I did feel on some level unsure why these characters were so driven. Can obsession be born of nothing? The film begins with a scene in which a young Plainview is more concerned with not leaving behind a chunk of silver than he is with the fact that he’s stuck at the bottom of a mine shaft with a broken leg. What does this attitude stem from? I can make an intuitive connection to the influences of society and the importance it places on wealth, but then it seems weird that we see almost nothing of society in the film. Some miners, some businessmen, and the inhabitants of a sad little rocky California town are all we get. Something felt missing to me.

The movie is epic, yes, but it is epic in such a strange way. I never would have expected it to show such a long passage of time and focus on so few characters. This works, in a certain way, but Plainview and Sunday seem not to age. Again, I am not asking for a bunch of cheesy makeup…but something. I needed something more to signify their years. Unless it is meant to symbolize how the men remain the same, even through all that has happened to them? Again, I feel vaguely confused.

Perhaps Paul Thomas Anderson is trying to argue that greed is so inherent, its presence needs no explanation. Even the character we root for in the end, Plainview’s adoptive son, doesn’t so much want to escape the life of consumption his father taught him to seek, but to create his own version of it away from his father’s influence. If there is one thing I know for sure about this movie, it is that I will have to see it again before I really decide how I feel about the story.

However, I’m not at all wavering in my opinion that the technical aspects of the film are remarkable. Every shot feels both economical and beautiful. A sequence in which an oil derrick goes up in flames is one of the most thrilling scenes of any movie of 2007. I also want to stand up and shout about how effective the film’s score is. I moan about the state of background music in American film quite often, because in most films it is pointless at best, confounding and distracting at worst. Here, though, movie music does what it almost never seems to: actually adds to the power of the film. Composed by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, it is odd and magnificent. Additionally, while the movie clocks in at over two and a half hours, it does not at all feel as if it should have been shorter. I was surprised when it came to an end.

It seems like a lot of people are calling There Will Be Blood the best movie of the year and one of the greatest American movies of the decade. Clearly I’m not saying that here, nor would I even call it one of my top ten of the year. But I wouldn’t be surprised if when I see it again it grows on me, and eventually I wonder how I missed so much the first time around. I also wouldn’t be surprised if I end up deciding it’s one of the most overrated movies of all time. I just don’t know. If you’ve seen it, what do you think?


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