Daniel Plainview: I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed.
This film had me from beginning. Once Jonny Greenwood‘s Penderecki-esque strings ominously crescendo-ed over black, the Old English title card flashed, “There Will Be Blood,” as much a warning as a title, and slowly the screen faded from black to the foreboding desert landscape… I was in.
Of course, Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the few actors you could sell me on most anything with. His performance alone almost put Gangs of New York on this list… almost. Coupled with There Will Be Blood, these two high-profile films seem to have cemented the idea that Day-Lewis is a scenery-chewing leviathan, which I think is a generalized misconception. Yes, in these two films he plays boisterous, at times over-the-top characters, but to say that this is business-as-usual for him is a disservice.
It’s as if playing Bill “The Butcher” then Daniel Plainview was a one-two punch that gave the world selective-amnesia, erasing in people’s minds the brilliant subtlety of the majority of Day-Lewis’ plethora of much more subdued (or subsumed…or a word like that, sub-something or other, you know, just sort of folded-in) performances, a la A Room with a View, The Age of Innocence, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, et al.
Anyway, here he does reach rather more extreme peaks, and amazingly so. Daniel Plainview is a larger-than-life character, a true monster of a man–in more ways than one–who deserves, nay, requires an equally larger-than-life performance. And Day-Lewis does not disappoint. There’s so much going on in just his eyes alone, and even more brought to the character by his voice. Daniel Day-Lewis has a remarkable ability to capture very particular intonations and cadences that are uniquely his characters’. He’s simply marvelous.
Pair Day-Lewis’ bravura performance with P.T. Anderson’s undeniable craftsmanship and you’ve got cinematic gold. A true cineaste filmmaker, Anderson doesn’t just make a movie, it’s an event. An amazingly unprecedented melange of John Huston and Stanley Kubrick, with visuals that evoke both The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Shining. The things Anderson and cinematographer Robert Elswit are able to convey visually are astounding. The first fifteen minutes of There Will Be Blood could serve as a master class in the art of “showing not telling.”
It’s a modern-day masterpiece about faith and family and greed and oil. Day-Lewis’ performance, Greenwood’s music, Anderson’s direction, and Elswit’s cinematography are all award-worthy. I could go on to write an entire thesis about this film, but I won’t. I’m finished.