This marked my fourth weekend in a row taking a trip out to see yet another in a list of seven films that falls into the complete filmography of American writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson which is being shown as a retrospective at the Portland Art Museum. I love pretty much all of Anderson’s work to date. And as mentioned in a previous review, I would consider both “Boogie Nights” (1997) and “Magnolia” (1999) to both be 2 films that would take a spot in my top 10 favorite films of all time. And Anderson being the only director to have more than one film in my top 10. So with that said, of all of his films this was the one that I was the most interested in revisiting. Mostly because I remember being rather indifferent about it the first time I saw it on the big screen when I first moved to Portland over 8 years ago. Since then, my indifference has only grown. As I have refused to watch it on DVD or anything else other than the theater. And since it’s taken me this long to be able to do so. I have spent many years away from this film thinking of Anderson more in terms of his influence on me from the 2 other films that preceded it mentioned above. It’s almost as if my memory of seeing it that first time, it having been so long ago now, got shrouded and I could only remember certain key images and half scenes. So in walking into it today, with a chance to catch it in 35mm (the original print of how the director intended for you to see it – awfully rare now in the day of digital) I found myself both enthusiastic and also slightly not expecting of what I was going to find, several years later, with a fresh new set of eyes.
I won’t spend time divulging into the film’s plot as like with many of these “trips back to the movies” I’m imagining many people who are going to read this have already seen the film and know what it’s about. But what I will do in the paragraph that follows is give a more fleshed out review. Of what I thought about the film this time around being in that it was my first time seeing it since its 2007 release.
“There Will Be Blood” winds up being an excoriating study of greed, the constructive and destructive powers of competitiveness, and people’s ambition. It’s a vastly cinematic, darkly personal tale of one man seemingly without one single redemptive quality. There’s a vague nuance in the way it’s filmed, which became much more apparent to me when seeing it this time around. Anderson decides to concentrate on long, almost silent-like passages and huge, open panoramic shots (from long time Anderson DP Robert Elswit, who provides some tremendous cinematography (which he got an Oscar win for) ) in both size and scope. It delves to the most painful depths of a man who, by some standards could be looked at as a success or maybe even genius. But Anderson seems to want to probe much deeper and deliver us a story about how this success and genius could lead someone so far down a path, that they wind up being what psychologists would call a sociopath.
But really, all I’ve talked about here so far are merely the great underlying messages and technical achievements that are contained within the film. The true brunt of the film is in Daniel Day Lewis’ methodical performance as an anti-hero oilman Daniel Plainview. A man who is willing to turn all of nature’s vast number of resources and turn them into monetary bounty, regardless of the cost it has on him, or the rest of the world for that matter. Day Lewis’s character becomes the poster boy for what has and still continues to hurt America and the rest of the world: oil. The greed, violence, and aggression that come from it, the religious fervor, the paranoia behind its policies, and the betrayal of our own people because of its Capitalist ideologies. All are brilliantly mirrored through one man, Daniel Plainview, and we as a viewer get to see in first hand account the harsh impact of what all these things can do to a man. Similarly to Al Pacino in Brian DePalma’s “Scarface” (1983) but set around another boom-or-bust era, it looks at things from a different context but exposes the same universal truths. Both of these stories revolve around men who are so hungry, so lusting for wealth and power, that their quest in creating it for themselves makes monsters out of them. Day Lewis here was nothing short of memorizing in an almost “I want to look away but I can’t” scene stealing performance that I can honestly say, even having just seen the film, that it’s a career best one for the undeniably gifted actor. There were several moments throughout while watching it, in taking an intent look at his performance this time around, that allowed me to come to the conclusion that I did above. It’s an incredible feat from a still then young (32 years of age) writer/director in Anderson, who by this point had proven in less than a decade that he is one modern-day America’s true cinematic auteurs, while acting once again as a reminder to the true genius of Daniel Day Lewis, who eschews every frame and marches to the beat of Anderson’s drum in expert fashion. It’s a damn fine film and I can understand why people have and still do consider it to be Anderson’s masterpiece. However, I will take it one step further and call it not only Anderson’s but Daniel Day Lewis’ masterpiece too. Because well, this picture would only be half as great as it turned out being if it didn’t have one without the other.