Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is a film that has been praised endlessly by critics. Many view it as one of the most important films of the decade, if not the most important film of the decade. Sticking out of all this unanimous praise for There Will Be Blood is myself. I do not like There Will Be Blood. To me, it isn’t a meaningful film or an entertaining one. I don’t necessarily hate There Will Be Blood and I respect it as a piece of art but just because it tries to be a masterpiece, doesn’t mean it is one.
The film is about a prospector in New Mexico named Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis). In 1902, he finds oil near Los Angeles and establishes a small business. When one of Plainview’s workers dies from an oil well explosion, Plainview adopts the worker’s son and uses him as a work partner (really more of a slave). From there on, we see Plainview’s dark descent into greed and psychopathy. The film is loosely adapted from Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil!. People say loosely because if you compare the novel and the film, they look like two completely different things.
The first half of the film is simply fantastic. The opening 20 minutes contains no dialogue and we are quickly introduced to the desert landscape, Daniel Plainview and his ambition. We also see the forming relationship between Plainview and his adopted son which offers the most complex and satisfying arch in the film. After the first half of the film finishes, that is where the film declines and loses its touch. The film suddenly shifts from the human effects of the acquisition of money in America to Plainview’s psychopathic transformation. The scope of Anderson’s campus shrunk as the film went on, leaving me unsatisfied with the wasted potential.
Another recurring notion is the battle between religion and secular commerce. Plainview throughout the film constantly banters with Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) who is a preacher. These conversations could have offered some interesting commentary but instead Anderson’s misguided ambition and half-baked portrayal of religion make those scenes feel awkward and forced. In the end, the film’s grandiose ideas don’t stick out and say anything new about the structure of American society.
Aside from poorly handled themes and ideas, the characterization of Daniel Plainview is also underdeveloped. Daniel Plainview is just a bitter monster that regrets nothing and hates everybody, including himself. Some have compared Plainview to Charles Foster Kane. They both gained an immense amount of wealth and slowly declined in mental and physical health. But the reason why Kane’s character arch worked is because he feels like a real human being. Deep down Kane feels lonely and yearns for his sled “Rosebud”. Plainview doesn’t have a “Rosebud” so we are left with this one-dimensional and inhuman person that no one likes or cares about. Luckily, his character is still bearable due to Daniel Day-Lewis’ horrifying performance. You can see Lewis trying his best to add some depth and sense to his character. Lewis is the only actor who could pull off some of the silly lines Plainview says, especially the psychopathic rant at the very end of the film. A lesser actor would have just made the scene laughable.
The cinematography by Robert Elswit is beautiful and has created some great visual pieces. The lighting in every scene is just perfect and really beings some life to an almost lifeless film. Wide angles of the desert landscape and giant fires created by oil wells are wonderful to look at. The musical score by Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood is just plain awful. I think Anderson chose the wrong composer because the music sounds like dead bees and clanging spoons. It doesn’t build atmosphere of the time period or intensify any of the emotions in the film. It’s just there to bug you.
I could go on about the small individual issues of There Will Be Blood (its ending, its lack of female characters, its tedious pacing, etc.) but there really is no point. Anderson’s ambition to make There Will Be Blood a masterpiece is far beyond his reach. The film thinks of itself as epic when in reality its scope continuously gets smaller. The characters are stiff and don’t reflect ordinary society at all. Although Daniel Day-Lewis gives a terrific performance and the ideas brought up in the film are important, There Will Be Blood still has too many glaring problems for me to enjoy the film. I give There Will Be Blood a C+.
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