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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

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Blood’ leaves epic stain on world of film


Daniel Plainview appears in both the opening and the closing moments of There Will Be Blood. When the film begins, he is a poor man who, alone in a deep well, digs around for scraps of silver. When the film ends, he lies alone as a reclusive oil tycoon.

Both of these men are Daniel Plainview. But by the time one becomes the other, they are two completely different people. Oscar Wilde wrote in The Duchess of Padua, "We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell." By the time the closing title screen appears in the iconic old English letters, Daniel Plainview has already become his own devil. He has already made the world his Hell.

There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson’s oil-tycoon epic is as simple as it is devastating. The story of Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is an unsettling look at the thin line between ambition and faith. Plainview begins as a lone man immersed in the silence of a well, scraping the walls for slivers of silver, and climbs the reigns to become a monstrously greedy oil tycoon whose darkest dimension is coldly realistic. Plainview is a suave and charming man, conning naive townsfolk out of thousands of acres of land. He only finds his match in the young firebrand preacher Eli Sunday (Little Miss Sunshine’s Paul Dano) who is on to Plainview’s scheme and uses that fact as an opportunity to bring more publicity to his church.

After the opening scene of nearly 15 minutes of silence, the newly clean-cut Plainview breaks the silence with his smooth-as-leather voice, announcing to a collection of opportunistically naive townsfolk, "Ladies and gentleman, I am an oilman." From that moment, Plainview’s dive into hell is unstoppable.

The film is an overwhelming experience that is truly appreciated after enough time has passed since viewing it. While Anderson makes it work as a tragically dark American epic, the film works as his most intelligent and grandest character study, one that will likely be used in college film classes around the country for many years to come. It is in the private and intimate moments between Plainview and the supporting characters that make the film, rather than the sweepingly epic story structure.

The film is an up-close portrait of a still-struggling nation that finds itself torn between the morals of business and the values of religion.

The film, like most great American nightmares, will likely take a while longer to gain the appreciation that it deserves. Like a Stanley Kubrick remake of Citizen Kane, it is an undeniably strange film that is the most perfect example of an ageless cinematic tragedy. However, like Citizen Kane itself, don’t look for it to be truly hailed for many years to come.

The film is not for the impatient – it works in a slow and poetic prose that maintains a steady pace but relies all too often on gorgeous visuals and deathly silences. With a running time of more than two-and-a-half hours, Anderson uses every minute for the progression of the story, but like Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or even the recent masterpiece by Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men, he manages to make the long stretches of silence as crucial as the dialogue.

Still, Anderson’s well-written dialogue has the force and power of Old Testament scripture. The script, loosely based on Upton Sinclair’s Oil!, is a mesmerizing piece of work that manages to invade your consciousness long after the credits role, as each word is so carefully chosen that, like the men of the time, no person speaks unless it is absolutely necessary.

Johnny Greenwood’s 2001-inspired score is anti-state-of-the-art and tears into the film, resonating a haunting overcast that is just as unshakable as any of the film’s other aspects.

Capturing a new-age homage to the old fashioned American Western epic, it is often odd and sometimes seems misplaced, but, like the film itself, it sticks with you long after you’ve left the theater.

There isn’t much to be said of Day-Lewis’ performance that hasn’t been said already. It is by far the greatest performance of the year, one of the best performances so far this century and I wouldn’t be surprised if, in 92 years, film critics list this century’s 10-best performances and Day-Lewis’ hauntingly mesmerizing Plainview makes the list. There are moments, when his veins swell and his eyes begin to burn into the screen, that it is no longer acting but nothing short of demonic possession. Overacting at its most glorious best, Day-Lewis chews up the screen with a demonic fury of a man who wouldn’t fall short of ripping out his own black heart and selling it if he thought he could rip off the buyer. As ruthless as it is flawless, this is the performance of the year – maybe the decade.

There Will Be Blood is the most odd and unsettling masterpiece to grace the screen in years. Guaranteed to act as an influence for future filmmakers in years to come, Anderson takes the American tragedy and sets it ablaze with the fire and brimstone of Day-Lewis’ powerhouse performance. In the end, we’re lying on the ground, soaking in blood with Plainview. And while it may take a while for the devastation to really sink in, one thing is for certain: He is his own devil. This is his hell. Welcome.


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