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Green Light in the City

There Will Be Blood

5 March 08 words: Zoe Jeyes
Everything about the experience of watching this film feels revelatory; it is visceral, powerful and executed in such unexpected ways

Ostensibly There Will Be Blood is a film about oil, though what it’s actually about is much harder to define. The bare bones of the plot are taken from a 1927 novel, straightforwardly titled Oil!, and at its simplest it’s the story of Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his rise to wealth and power in that business over the first thirty years of the 20th Century. The bulk of the narrative takes place in the California community of Little Boston, which Plainview descends on after a tip that it's sat on top of an ocean of oil. Here he meets resistance from Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), the local self-styled church leader as well as competition from larger oil companies.

As its title suggests There Will Be Blood is concerned with religion, and fittingly its themes are large and biblical. It is a film about fathers and sons, about duelling brothers, about cursed lands covered in sin. At the centre of this world stands Daniel Plainview, a man who sometimes seems like the devil himself. Daniel Day- Lewis is hypnotic in the role, he mesmerises the audience as he does the people of Little Boston. He is calm and considered, magnetically appealing and yet terrifying, he practically jumps off the screen with intensity.

This remarkable performance is well contrasted with Dano’s. As Plainview attracts, Eli revolts. Plainview is all swarthy charm and Eli is a pasty, pious whelp. The men are united and set at odds by their pride, which is more important to both than anything they claim to believe in or desire. The hope for something better lies with Plainview’s adopted son H.W. (played by wide-eyed newcomer Dillon Freasier), but in every moment of paternal affection you can’t help shake the feeling the child is little more than a tool to create an illusion of humanity. There is a desire for love and family, but it is all drowned in oil. Plainview, and the film itself, are misanthropic to the core.

PT Anderson’s films have been marked by invention, not least in terms of sound and music and There Will Be Blood continues that trend. Jonny Greenwood’s work is startlingly effective, perhaps most notably in the film’s dialogue free opening scenes. There is something in the sound of the film that lifts it out of its period, even out of the tradition of cinema, in fact it practically jolts you out of your seat. Everything about the experience of watching this film feels revelatory; it is visceral, powerful and executed in such unexpected ways. It is a beautifully shot epic where underneath bleached landscapes black liquid flows like blood, and above, noxious smoke and fire chase across cloudless skies.

This is a true American masterpiece and its ingenious pacing means, at over two and a half hours, the experience never feels less than engrossing. It is an astonishing piece of cinema.

 

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