That dialogue is spoken by the character of Daniel Plainview, one of the most complex characters to appear on screen in a flood of a long time. From this period on, we see a Daniel Plainview who is very direct, sometimes looking straight into the camera as he addresses groups of prospective business partners in his quest for oil. Plainview doesn't come off as a typical salesperson either. He'll look the audience (in-person or fourth wall) in the eye as he makes his case and the audience, even if they believe him, has to wonder just what is behind those eyes.
There is the implication throughout that Plainview is hiding a very dark reality behind his façade of friendly business. In fact, there is the implication that Plainview might just as soon kill you as talk to you, even as he is causing you to trust him. But Plainview isn't merely a conman out to back stab you. There is a lot more to the man. As There Will Be Blood progresses, we learn just how many facets Daniel Plainview has. Is Plainview a mineral thief or is he a community builder? Is Plainview a loving father or a neglectful parent? Is Plainview obsessed with profit or is he willing to pass up a good deal for the right reasons? Is Plainview an opportunist or a gambler? Is Plainview a shrewd businessman or an emotional fool? Is Plainview a friend or a cruel foe? The answer to all of these questions is "Yes."
People are complex in real life. Daniel Plainview is among the most realistically complex characters you can think of. That doesn't make him pleasant. Who could bring such a character to life? Daniel Day-Lewis, of course. He can make you root for Plainview like an unwilling accomplice to Richard III in the first half of that titular work, or he can make you loathe Plainview like a willing usurper to Richard III in the second half of that titular work. And that's often within seconds of each other. Day-Lewis can evoke admiration, hatred, pity and compassion for the same character all at the same time. The acting here is peerless.
The directing and writing by Paul Thomas Anderson (whose screenplay is based on Upton Sinclair's Oil!) are to be credited for this complex characterization as well. "Credited" or "blamed" depending on the mood of the character and the chapter in the story. Every time Plainview seems to make sense, another curveball is thrown into the crowd, possibly braining someone. The experience of waiting for the title to come to fulfillment, knowing full well that there must be something sinister going on in Plainview's head, is a decidedly unpleasant experience. That said, it's an experience most might not want to end. There's more suspense in this film than in most horror, though it's a very different kind of suspense. There will be Blood is engrossing and fascinating. At first the audience will want to remain to see what Plainview will do and if he will succeed. Eventually, the audience remains to see what he'll do next and to see if he will fail. Finally, the audience stays because they have invested so much into this story that a payback is expected, though far from guaranteed.
After the aforementioned (mostly silent) introduction Daniel Plainview and his son H.W. (Dillon Freasier) investigate a prospective (black) gold mine in Northern California, suggested by a young traveler named Paul Sunday. After meeting Paul's twin brother Eli (played, like Paul, by Paul Dano) and father Abel (David Willis) Daniel makes the first of many deals to drill on the oil rich land that their town (and the surrounding ranches) sits upon. This deal starts to feel (subtly) like the first of many deals with the devil. While progress does indeed provide prosperity for the town, the not-too-hidden question is "At what cost?"
A movie this stark and straight-forward is perhaps unlikely to be quite this interesting. There isn't a whole lot to point out (plot-wise) that is truly spectacular. We watch the rise of a greedy, yet talented, oil man with a roiling rage beneath the surface and we wait to see when the pressure cooker pops. But it's a slow, slow burn. Daniel seems to be amenable to virtually any effort to buy the land, or the drilling rights on the land that he believes will be profitable. What takes a back seat to this endeavor can be surprising and seemingly uncharacteristic, seeing as how the complete picture of Daniel Plainview's character is never truly in plain view.
His treatment of family, like H.W. or long lost brother Henry Brands (Kevin J. O'Connor) and even trusted business partners like Fletcher Hamilton (Ciarán Hinds) seem to shift with Plainview in ways that even he seems not to expect. It can be startling when it seems that Plainview is about to do something atrocious, only to do something kind, even more than when Plainview seems to be on an even keel and then shows us his dark side. The glimpses of Plainview's humanity is what makes his darkness all that much more noticeable. It's hard to know who you're getting and when... until... he's done.
The acting in this movie is worth its weight in Milkshakes. The fact that actors like O'Connor, Dano and Russell Harvard hold their own in scenes with Day-Lewis is a credit to the entire cast. Yes, Daniel (as Daniel) takes the cake here, but this is an all-around great cast held together by a superior director. The very fine editing by Dylan Tichenor enhances the visuals Anderson's script demands, but not nearly to the extent that the cinematography by D.P. Robert Elswit does. The camera work is beautiful. Further, the guitar-rich score by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood is really quite good.
All told, There Will Be Blood is a superb film, with virtually every base covered. The viewer may begin to wonder why they've watched this film for so long once the credits roll and the less-discerning viewer might actually be bored (though I would venture to say they would be in the vast minority). The complexities of character (and, to a degree, story) give the impression that repeated viewings can reveal layers upon layers more, but the film is so decidedly unpleasant that repeated viewings might also be somewhat of a rarity (without a nice, long break). There is an underlying tension throughout the film that can make even the most appreciative audience glad when the film ends, even when continued analysis persists that feeling of negativity. Folks, this is NOT the feel-good hit of the year.
Those who can handle these things and can appreciate some truly mesmerizing acting, excellent directing and a dedicated crew that keeps this Oil Movie well oiled might seriously consider becoming Plainveiwers. Not all great movies are great fun. Pleasant or not, There Will Be Blood causes me to say "There Will Be Four and One Half Stars (out of Five)!" See it, but be warned. Now... who's for a Milkshake? I hear the local Bowling Alley makes some that you can't beat with a Bowling Pin!
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