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THERE WILL BE BLOOD

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Kevin J. O’Connor, Ciaran Hinds, Dillon Freasier
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 158 Minutes
Release Date: April 8, 2008

“I’m finished.”

Film ****

Bold. Ambitious. Jarring. Pure cinema. And most of all, EPIC. There are not enough words to describe Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece, There Will Be Blood.

There have been very few films in my moviegoing experience where such high anticipation was met something truly remarkable. There Will Be Blood was my most anticipated film of last year ever since I first saw the fantastic trailer. I saw the film on its opening night, in one of the best theatrical presentations I’ve ever experienced, and when it was over I found myself in my seat frozen, absolutely astonished that it tremendously exceeded my already high expectations.

Just the sheer notion that the film would be combining the brilliant talents of Daniel Day-Lewis and writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson was more than enough to get me anticipated. Anderson, one of our most treasured filmmakers, had been on a five-year hiatus following 2002’s Punch Drunk Love. And Mr. Day-Lewis is known for not taking on many acting gigs unless a certain screenplay captures his interest.

This prized collaboration resulted in my choice for the absolute best film of 2007! It was a very good movie year, but in the end not even nine other films on best of the year list could hold a candle to the remarkable, jaw-dropping level of filmmaking displayed by Anderson. Every single element in the production, which Anderson adapted for the screen from the book Oil by Upton Sinclair, represents cinematic art at its highest possible level.

You’ve no doubt heard about the comparisons to Citizen Kane, and I’m here to tell you that such a comparison is fair and deserved. Anderson’s epic is without question one of the most ambitious films ever conceived since Orson Wells’ classic masterpiece. Not only does he evoke Wells, but Anderson also manages to construct a few sequences that produce a Kubrickian effect, which I assumed no other filmmaker was capable of.

The film’s brilliance is illustrated right away in one of the most absorbing opening segments ever, one with no dialogue and guided only by imagery and a music score that will both astonish the senses, as we witness the evolution of a man and his rise to absolute power over a thirteen-year period. And trust me when I say that by the film’s end, whether you come to sympathize with or despise him, you will come to accept Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis) as one of the greatest film characters of all time.

The opening depicts Plainview’s evolution from struggling silver miner in 1898 New Mexico to a man of superior wealth and power by way of the discovery of oil. By 1911, Plainview is the top oil prospector, placing his grasp on any area of land that is flowing on a sea of petroleum. His selling point to every community is the appearance a family man, with the angelic face of his young son and business partner, H.W. (Dillon Freasier) by his side.

His services have brought him to the small community of Little Boston, after receiving a tip about the presence of oil. Once he sees for himself that the oil is indeed there, Plainview convinces the owners of the property, the Sunday family, that drilling must begin immediately if they are to strike gold. Though he and the Sundays reach a fast agreement, Plainview senses a bitter rival in Eli (Paul Dano), the owner’s son. And as the story progresses, the last person you want to be for Plainview is an opponent.

Little Boston is very much a religious community, and Eli claims to be healer. He doesn’t break a sweat in asking Plainview for a large sum of money to donate to his church. And it’s in this moment that we can tell that Plainview, by the expression on his face, has an immediate distaste for Eli.

These opposing forces of ambition and faith perfectly represent the two biggest establishments of the period. There’s Plainview representing that of capitalism and Eli representing the evangelical movement.

Both of these foundations helped build the country at the turn of the century, but once they’re intertwined the result could best be summed up as prophets against profits.

But I’m getting far ahead of myself in attempting to account specifics in the story. Since the film carries an amazing scope and the story unfolds in a remarkably crafted way, There Will Be Blood is all the more effective of a film experience if you see it not knowing many details of the story. In fact, no plot explanation I give it will do the film any justice at all.

The true focus of the movie is Daniel Plainview. The core of the story is Plainview’s rise to power, and the descent into madness that results from it. In no way is he intended to be seen as sympathetic, and yet even during the moments when he comes off as truly despicable, we still empathize to a degree, because no matter how much we deny ourselves, we all have the ability to be just as cunning and ruthless as him.

I also can’t forget mentioning the much-debated ending of the film. It’s an ending that comes out of nowhere, taking the film into another realm, and it’s one of the most brilliant finishes to any movie I’ve ever seen. The build up to this final moment and its execution still manage to blow my mind on repeated viewings, which is something many films aren’t capable of.

We’ve long known Daniel Day-Lewis to be one of the greatest actors of all time, but nothing can prepare you for what is simply one of the most amazing pieces of acting you will ever see. Let it be known that all the acclaim, as well as the very deserving Oscar win, was no fluke at all. It will be a very long time until we see a more riveting piece of acting from any other actor.

The film also serves up the finest work yet from Paul Dano. Eli’s church sermons, or spectacles, provide some standout moments, and Dano is convincing in making Eli a maddening evangelist. It’s unquestionably difficult to compete with the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis, but Dano provides a worthy on screen adversary.

And just as the film is the watershed achievement of Daniel Day-Lewis’ career, the film is also the same for Paul Thomas Anderson. I’ve admired all of his films (Boogie Nights and Magnolia are two of the greatest films to come out of the 90s), and yet I could’ve never predicted a departure this huge from his San Fernando Valley-based character portraits. By making this kind of ambitious departure and succeeding tremendously, I am convinced that Anderson is a filmmaker who can do no wrong.

The film’s production is also something that must be celebrated, because as I mentioned every element is at the highest possible level. The Oscar-winning cinematography provided by Robert Elswitt is gorgeous and astonishing in its imagery. The costume and production designs are simply magnificent, as the early 1900s never looked more authentic on film.

Lastly, we come to the remarkable music score provided by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, which is one of the most unconventional and haunting pieces of film music I’ve ever heard. One listen to the music that opens the film and you’d swear that you’re about to watch a horror movie. It does sound like a score you would hear in something like Friday the 13th, but it provides the perfect soundtrack to match the brooding intensity of the film.

And yet, Greenwood was denied an Oscar nomination, which qualifies as one of the dumbest moves ever made by the AMPAS. The reason for this was the score happened to include past works from Greenwood, which were featured in a music documentary. I’m sure so many people would’ve been really offended if Greenwood did get nominated.

It’s sad that his work didn’t get recognized like it should. Consider the oil derrick explosion sequence, one of the most astonishingly executed sequences I’ve ever seen in any movie. The entire scene is backed up with a thunderous, escalating drumbeat that lasts throughout. The execution of this sequence is already fantastic with its stunning camerawork and imagery, but it would not be as effective without Greenwood’s contribution.

There Will Be Blood is a film that, for me, is the absolute perfect example of a true cinematic epic. The milestone performance from Daniel Day-Lewis and the brilliant filmmaking from P.T. Anderson, as well as the phenomenally executed production, add up to a film experience unlike any other. I have offered you this milkshake, and now you must DRINK IT UP!

Video ***1/2

This disc from Paramount delivers a most effective presentation of a great looking film. The anamorphic picture does a quite terrific job of enhancing the brilliant cinematography of Robert Elswitt. Image quality is clear and crisp, despite a hint or two of grain early in the film, and colors appear in remarkable form. The time period, again, looks strikingly authentic in addition.

Audio ****

The 5.1 mix really delivers on this one. For a film that is equal parts quiet and explosive, the sound mix is incredibly effective. The standout element, of course, is Jonny Greenwood’s score (the oil derrick explosion sequence will blow you away). Dialogue delivery is even stronger than usual. The film was nominated for sound editing, and this presentation fully illustrates why.

Features **1/2

 

For a 2-Disc Collector’s Edition release, the list of extras is surprisingly slim. Even the menu screens on both discs appear to have had very little effort put into them. I honestly hope that a more extravagantly loaded release will be issued somewhere down the road. In the meantime, this release includes a compilation featurette titled “15 Minutes”, which presents a series of photos, video clips and occasional behind the scenes footage, all set to Jonny Greenwood’s score. Also included are two trailers for the film, two Deleted Scenes, as well as an alternate take of a scene titled “Dailies Gone Wild”. Lastly, we come to the absolute best feature on the release, a 25 minute silent short film called “The Story of Petroleum”, which chronicles the oil industry in the 1920s, which also includes cuts from Jonny Greenwood’s score.

And I will credit the packaging, which is a bit unique.

Summary:

There Will Be Blood is a full representation of everything I love about films. Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Thomas Anderson are both true artists of the highest caliber, and this film is the one that both are to be remembered for.

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