Reading the feedback to my previous post regarding Daniel Day-Lewis and Johnny Depp, and which of these two great actors would be the most worthy recipient of this year's Best Actor Oscar, I decided to revisit There Will Be Blood last night to reacquaint myself with the Day-Lewis’s performance. It was the second time I'd seen the film, although this time it was on DVD rather than the big screen. But my initial reactions — immensely powerful, hugely compelling, exquisitely crafted, wonderfully performed — remained the same. Unlike the year when Crash picked up the Best Picture Oscar over the far superior Brokeback Mountain and I found myself almost foaming at the mouth with anger, I wouldn't object too strongly if either this or No Country For Old Men were to win rather than Sweeney, Zodiac or Jesse James (disappointed, yes, livid, no).
There Will Be Blood, loosely adapted from Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil! is an extraordinary film, with Day-Lewis’ performance as oilman Daniel Plainview among his very best. Plainview’s a complex character: unpleasant, egotistical, deeply flawed, cowardly, bullying. “I have a competition in me,” he says, his accent pure John Huston. “I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people.” But he’s not without some compassion; adopting the baby son of a dead colleague, raising him as his own, using the cherub-faced child, D.W. (Dillon Freasier), to help woo investors and scalp farmers into leasing their land, treating him as an equal. And although he later abandons D.W. when an accident with a derrick renders the child deaf, there’s clearly a love of sorts between him and the boy. Later still, with Plainview even richer, secluded in a Los Angeles mansion like a cross between Satan and Howard Hughes, his persona even more monstrous, he turns on his “son” completely, calling him a “bastard in a basket” and educating him of his parentage. Freud would, no doubt, have much to say about that.
With Boogie Nights and Magnolia, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson proved himself a disciple of Robert Altman (to whom this film is dedicated), capable of working with an ensemble cast, and telling human drama on an epic scale, but TWBB isn’t like anything Anderson has done before. There are moments that suggest Lean, Huston and Kubrick, but Anderson isn’t interested in homage here. Added by Robert Elswitt’s scope cinematography, Jack Fisk’s impeccable production design and Jonny Greenwood’s sensational score, this is the work of a filmmaker in complete control of his craft, daring, profound, remarkable. The economy of the storytelling, too, is astounding. The near wordless opening ten minutes tell you almost everything you need to know about Plainview, while the cut between the young H.W. and his friend Mary jumping off the back of the house to their wedding, years later, is a marvel of time compression. While some, judging by several debates raging online, have problems with the ending, and the dark and dramatic turn of events therein (something I had less of an issue with second time around), there’s no denying the power of the work.