What is there to say about There Will Be Blood? It has been a decade since it was released, and it is still, by far, the greatest film of the twenty-first century. I am not simply saying this because I am a huge fan of Paul Thomas Anderson – in fact, There Will Be Blood is the exact reason why I am so mad about Anderson as a director. It is the film that not only made me fall in love with Paul Thomas Anderson’s films, it is the film that made me fall in love with cinema in general. I had always loved the movies, but it was that fateful viewing of this film I undertook a few years ago that truly awakened me to cinema. I credit every fibre of my cinephile origins to Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino – which is why when it came time to write my 400th review, it was a natural decision to write about a film that meant a lot to me. There Will Be Blood is perhaps my favourite film ever made (other than maybe The Birdcage and The Blues Brothers – you can read about those in my reviews of them previously) – and it is a film that I rewatch at least once a year, if not more, and on every viewing I fall in love with this film even more.
There Will Be Blood is a perfect film in absolutely every single way. I am not letting my bias towards this film blind me from the flaws – but even on the rewatch I undertook for the purporses of this review, where I attempted to look at this film as a critic rather than a shameless admirer of it, I failed to find a single flaw in this film. To call this a masterpiece is a grand understatement of the highest proportions. I actually feel like I need to restrain myself, because it would be so easy to just go on and on about how magnificent this film is in every single way, but that would just detract from my credibility as a film critic by just talking about how brilliant this film is, right? Absolutely not, so here we go – a series of reasons why There Will Be Blood is one of the greatest films ever made:
Daniel Day-Lewis – do I need to say anything else? Perhaps I am not a parishioner at the church where Daniel Day-Lewis is considered the greatest living actor, but I certainly do think he is one of the best, and even if we can consider his reputation as a giant of performance simply being because of his reclusiveness and selective nature of choosing film roles (yet, he still chose Nine for some ungodly reason), we should just detach his reputation from the fact that he gives one of the greatest cinematic performances ever commited to film in There Will Be Blood. How can anyone watch this film and not be captivated by Day-Lewis – his abundance of charm combined with his purely despicable nature makes Daniel Plainview one of the most compelling and unbelievably complex cinematic villains ever (yet I shall contradict this soon enough when I discuss the fact that Plainview is nowhere close to being a villain, but rather a foil to the true villain of this film – but that we’ll discuss soon enough).
Day-Lewis doesn’t give one of the greatest performances of all time – he sets the standard for what acting should be. Arguably, not everyone should aspire to play such a despicable character, but I certainly think that what Day-Lewis provided here was nothing short of an utter miracle. Nasty, cruel and absolutely impossible to look away from, I find myself swooning at the incredible brilliance of this performance. It is one that forces its way under your skin and remains there, chilling you to the bone and strangling you with its sheer brute force. There are far too few adjectives that can describe this performance and give it the praise it deserves. It is something celestial, which we can use to describe Day-Lewis’ performance and the film as a whole.
Far too many people (myself included) focus only on Day-Lewis’ performance, and neglect the fact that There Will Be Blood contains another utterly extraordinary performance, from an actor that doesn’t get the praise he deserves, Paul Dano. Dano plays two characters, twin brothers Paul Sunday and Eli Sunday. Eli is by far the more prominent character, a small-town preacher on whose land Daniel encroaches. Dano is beyond incredible in this film – but the sheer scope of his performance only dawned on me on my third or fourth rewatch. Dano may not be given the same level of prestige work, nor the same kind of character that allows him this free-reign to show his true talents, but how can anyone top being in There Will Be Blood? Even with his supposed status as greatest of actor of his generation, Day-Lewis will never be able to do better work than what he did here (unless, perhaps he and Anderson collude to do something even greater in their next collaboration, Phantom Thread). Dano is so wonderful here, and some of the film’s most heart-stopping and awe-inspiring moments are ones where Dano is at the forefront. It also helps that both actors have insatiable chemistry that makes their dynamic so intense.
I mentioned previously how Daniel Plainview is one of the most despicable cinematic villains in film history – and I promised to contradict myself, because while on the outset Daniel does appear to be a terrible human being, I will be so bold as to say that Daniel Plainview is not even close to being a villain. He is, in fact, a far more heroic character than one would expect – and while he does do villainous actions, such as smashing Eli’s head in, abandoning his son or stealing from people, Daniel Plainview is actually a rather likable character – he just appears to be a villain because of the fate of circumstance. I am not saying he is a good man at all – he is a greedy, cruel and terrifyingly harmful character, but for every moment of unbridled violence or greed, there are a plethora of redeeming qualities that make Daniel such an extraordinarily complex character – the fact that he could occupy the position of both a hero and a villain just speaks to the complexities imbued within this character, and how Day-Lewis plays the character with such intensity, it confuses us as to what Daniel’s motivations actually are.
I can safely say that after rewatching There Will Be Blood, the true villain of this film is (without the shadow of a doubt) Eli Sunday. Allow me to explain this abstract and far-fetched concept. Look at Daniel – he is a man who simply wants to make money. He wants to be rich, and he does this through being a ruthless businessman. One thing that we can all be clear on is that a ruthless businessman is probably a far more heroic character than we expect – he would go to any lengths to make money, but considering we are living in a world where people become rich and famous for simply existing, and the rise of the nonsensical concept of a reality star, it is difficult to not be attracted to the idea of someone actually using skill and cunning to make their fortune. Other than this, Daniel keeps to himself. Yet, Eli lacks the capability to mind his own business – he writhes his way into Daniel’s life and business, becoming a nuisance that constantly undermines Daniel and his efforts, and even going so far as to humiliate him and treat him poorly. Daniel may be greedy, but he didn’t have any intention of causing trouble, and he went about doing what he did in legal and ethical ways – it is only that Eli himself drew Daniel to commiting those acts of intolerable cruelty.
Eli is such an unlikable, evil character – he takes the position of having the moral high-ground, forcing everyone around him to believe him to be an ethical and good person – by his “by-the-book” Christianity, he puts off this persona that he is a good person – and honestly, he hides the fact that he is a cowardly, slimy and nasty human being, as he is unable to speak truly towards Daniel and convey his true intentions. Daniel, for all his faults, is an honest character with mostly clear intentions, and Eli is someone who hides his real persona and rather puts on the facade of being a good, moral person when he is equally (if not more) evil than Daniel.
The second villain in this film is an abstract entity – America. This film takes on the well-worn trope of the American Dream. Daniel Plainview is the embodiment of the corrupting nature of capitalism – he is placed in a position of seeing the true evils of money, and he has no choice but to follow it – he stumbles upon it by chance, and if he hadn’t, he’d likely have made his fortune through simply being a miner, like we saw at the beginning of the film. Yet, the dollar is far too erotic of Daniel to avoid. He has a lust for power, and unfortunately power is only gained through wealth. This film is about the corrupting nature of capitalism – how it can drive someone to the literal point of insanity. As a whole, I feel like the true villain of There Will Be Blood is American capitalism – the sense that money is power pervades throughout this film and is the ultimate cause of Danie’s villainous actions. If there was ever a film that proves the true evil of money, then it is There Will Be Blood. Daniel Plainview works hard for his wealth – he deserves absolutely every penny he earns – he is just a tragic figure that couldn’t avoid being a part of the vicious system of the time.
Another major theme of There Will Be Blood is religion – this is quite a religious film, but I only noticed how heavily it draws on this theme in my recent rewatch – it isn’t an anti-religious film at all – but it does attack the nature of religion, more specifically the individuals who run religion. Eli Sunday is a man who claims that God is supreme – yet why does he pester Daniel about money? Eli is not a preacher or someone who is interested in spreading the word of God – he is a showman, someone who relishes in the opportunity to show off his over-dramatic nature for the purposes of having someone listen to him and believe him – one could even say Eli is bitter about the fact that William Bandy is good-looking enough to be in the movies, and while he is set for Hollywood, Eli will be preaching for country-folk that tend to die (as humans normally do). There Will Be Blood is a film primarily, on the surface, of exploring the relationship between religion and money, and makes the statement that rings eerily throughout this film and society as a whole – money is the true god in society, and there are far too many people like Eli Sunday who expose the insecurities of others to make way for his own selfish showmanship.
There Will Be Blood is perhaps the darkest film I have ever seen – I am always so captivated by the true evil present in this film. Paul Thomas Anderson never once avoids showing these characters as the despicable, brutal and bloodthirsty bastards that they truly are. Both Daniel Plainview and Eli Sunday are characters who do terrible things, and they are shown in their true nastiness throughout. There is nothing about this film that comes off as pleasant – it is a bleak, harsh and very cold film. Yet it is still an utter masterpiece, because of how it views humanity in a direct and uncompromisingly dark light. It doesn’t hide anything about human nature – it is an often terrifying and gothic film that repulses and attracts the audience to it.
The story isn’t enough to make There Will Be Blood an utter masterpiece – it is actually one of the most gorgeously made films ever made. The cinematography in this film is without a doubt some of the most artistically resonant ever produced to film. Robert Elswit is amongst the best cinematographers of all time, and his work with Paul Thomas Anderson has been nothing short of spectacular. There Will Be Blood also started the first of four collaborations between Anderson and Jonny Greenwood, who proves he is as brilliant as a film composer as he is an influential rock musician. There Will Be Blood is such a beautiful film – the bleak landscapes, framed through Elswit’s genius mind, makes this a film that leaves you shocked at how unbelievably riveting these images are. It is perhaps this epic scale that makes There Will Be Blood as brilliant as it is.
I really can’t say much more about There Will Be Blood other than it is beyond a masterpiece. It is an absolutely perfect film. I can’t find a single fault in this film, regardless of how hard I try. It is just impossible to find anything to say about this film other than the fact that it is a complex, beautifully made and terrifyingly real film about human nature, with Daniel Day-Lewis giving a performance that will be studied by historians for years to come. I have yet to see a film since There Will Be Blood that could come close to being as good as it is, mainly because cinematic perfection is nearly impossible to achieve – but if there is someone who has shown his true capabilities to do it, it is Paul Thomas Anderson. I will follow him wherever his career goes, which (by the looks of it) will be towards the pantheon of all-time great filmmakers, and There Will Be Blood is just another reason why he is so utterly incredible and one of the greatest working artistic minds today.