There Will Be Blood (2007)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillion Freasier, Kevin J. O’Connor
There Will Be Blood transformed me.
I saw it a few weeks after it was released because it looked interesting. I had no idea who Daniel Day-Lewis was, or Paul Thomas Anderson. I didn’t know anything about camera techniques, cinematography or method acting. I didn’t really even like movies, at least not in the annoyingly-analytical way I do now.
Between the opening shot of desert landscape and Day-Lewis’ bloody attempt at bowling, I changed. I instantly fell in love with There Will Be Blood and, by proxy, all films. I wanted to know who made it, who was in it, why it was so beautiful and griping and scary. I needed to know.
I started college a few years later and minored in film study. I forced friends and family members to go see foreign films and low-budget indie flicks. I helped start a website and podcast about movies so I could feed my desire to dissect them. All of this started with There Will Be Blood.
Day-Lewis is the best actor of his generation, and maybe ever. To this day, I have never seen one person carry a film the way he carried this one. There Will Be Blood does not exist without him (literally; Anderson wrote the part specifically for Day-Lewis). Much like his other jaw-dropping performances in Lincoln and Gangs of New York, Day-Lewis embodies his character to an almost frightening degree. His voice, his stare, his demeanor — he erases himself becomes Daniel Plainview.
Opposing Day-Lewis is Paul Dano, one of the most underrated actors working today. Plano plays a screeching fire and brimstone preacher whose creepy nature is overshadowed only by his hypocrisy. He is wormy and conniving, the opposite of Day-Lewis’ character in every way but one: they are both very greedy men. With just two men to capture scenes — not including some small but important parts from Dillion Freasier, who plays Plainview’s adopted son — the film’s most important character is itself.
The music, written by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, is eerie and cold. It washes over the film like a plague. There are numerous shots, like the one below, in which a character is in the scene but only as decoration. The focus always seems to be on the action in the distance, as if none of the characters really matter. The only reason they’re is because no one would watch, or finance, a film consisting of burning wood. (I might, if Anderson was the one making it.) Each scene bleeds into the other, and Anderson’s continuous tracking shots instill a hurried, almost frantic march toward the film’s conclusion. And what a conclusion it is. Absent of violence and action until the final moments, the bowling alley scene has taken a life of its own. Every great film has a defining moment, and Day-Lewis’ soul-piercing stare as he shouts “I drink your milkshake” is peak filmmaking.
There are movies I find funnier, more entertaining, and certainly easier to watch. But everything pales in comparison to There Will Be Blood. It is the best of all time.