Anderson delivers year’s best film in ‘Blood’
By Ben Saylor
Published Jan. 9, 2008
I got a late
Christmas present Dec. 28, when I caught a screening of Paul Thomas
Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood” in New York City.
The film, which
opens in Cleveland this Friday, is, without a doubt, the best film
of 2007, and one of the most accomplished films of the last several
years. With it, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson has reaffirmed
his status as one of the most gifted filmmakers working today, and
actor Daniel Day-Lewis has added to his own legacy with another
(son of Cleveland-area cult personality Ernie “Ghoulardi” Anderson)
has yet to make a bad film (his output includes “Boogie Nights”
and “Magnolia”), “Blood” is a different animal entirely. The first
of his films to be based on a novel (“Oil!” by Upton Sinclair),
“Blood,” like Anderson’s last movie, “Punch-Drunk Love,” is focused
on one person instead of the ensembles featured in “Boogie Nights”
and “Magnolia. That person is Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis), an oil-hungry
prospector who explains to another character that he wants to make
enough money to get away from other people. Greedy, distant and
cold, Plainview travels from town to town with his adopted son H.W.
(played by the terrific newcomer Dillon Freasier) persuading residents
to sell their land to him so he can drill for oil.
a challenge in the town of Little Boston, however, in the form of
young preacher Eli Sunday (“Little Miss Sunshine”’s Paul Dano).
The charismatic-but-creepy Sunday is just as much of a huckster
as Plainview, only what he’s touting ain’t bubblin’ crude. The pair
butts heads as they compete for the hearts and minds of the residents
of oil-rich Little Boston, and their adversarial relationship will
have dire consequences at the film’s bizarre conclusion.
in "There Will Be Blood"
And that’s about it, really. With “Blood,” Anderson
is much more interested in closely following Plainview’s parallel
ascent to wealth and descent into madness than he is in developing
an elaborate story along the lines of, say, “Boogie Nights” or “Magnolia.”
In doing so, he has crafted one of the most fascinating characters
seen on film in recent years. Many reviews of the film have characterized
Plainview as a complete misanthrope who is so unlikable it’s difficult
to get into the film. Don’t believe a word of it. Not only are there
far more unpleasant screen characters (Jake La Motta in “Raging
Bull” immediately comes to mind), but to call Plainview a devil
and leave it at that is to badly pigeonhole a much more complex
Watch the way Plainview proudly takes the orphaned
H.W. around the country. Yes, the perception that Plainview is a
family man does help him in a business sense, but he also genuinely
cares for H.W., making his later rejection of the boy when he is
deafened in a drilling explosion all the more disheartening. Observe
how he dotes on Eli’s younger sister Mary (Sydney McCallister).
Also note his taking of a long lost half-brother (played Kevin J.
O’Connor) under his wing. All of Anderson’s films to this point
have dealt strongly with family issues, and “Blood” is no exception.
Plainview’s need for family is obviously corrupted by his baser
desires and emotions, but the need is there nonetheless.
I can’t imagine that many actors would be able to
pull off a character like Daniel Plainview successfully. If anyone
could, however, it’s Day-Lewis, who gives what is easily the year’s
best performance in this film. His smooth, deliberate line delivery
is very reminiscent of John Huston (who was also successfully aped
by Clint Eastwood in 1990’s “White Hunter, Black Heart”), but Day-Lewis’
portrayal is all his own.
As the fire-and-brimstone-spewing
Eli, Dano proves himself more than capable of holding his own in
his scenes with Day-Lewis, which is no mean feat. Acting-wise, these
two dominate the film, although the acting is uniformly excellent.
Rarely has there
been a film where all the different elements of filmmaking jell
as effectively as they do in “Blood.” Everything just works, from
the visual style (lots of brilliantly orchestrated long takes and
dark cinematography from Robert Elswit, with production design by
Jack Fisk) to the dissonant, appropriately unsettling soundtrack
from Jonny Greenwood, a musician largely known for his work with
the band Radiohead.
When it comes
down to it, I could go on about “There Will Be Blood” forever, but
I’ll stop myself here by just imploring you to see it as soon as
possible (and not just once).
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