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August 08, 2007
“There Will Be Blood”

Written by Paul Thomas Anderson

“The oil-game is like heaven. Everyone is called but few are chosen.”


If you had asked me at the end of 2006 what the best movie of 2007 would be, I would have guessed P.T. Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood.” Not only has Anderson proven himself, in my opinion, the best of the late-90s crop of emerging filmmakers with the one-two-three of “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia” and “Punch-Drunk Love,” but he also seemed willing to stretch himself more than the rest of those filmmakers. He followed two solid epics with a little romantic comedy that could be considered a contender for best of the genre this decade. That Anderson’s next film would be a period piece based on Upton Sinclair’s “Oil!,” what more could a filmgoer want?

A personal pet peeve of mine about the late-90s filmmakers is how scared they all seem to be of adaptations (and of course, working). Look at M. Night Shyamalan, who turned down a project perfectly suited for him in “Life of Pi” because he was against adaptations. Look at the likes of Wes Anderson, who only stretches as far as his self-contained cinematic world seems to allow. I really like both Shyamalan and Wes Anderson, but neither holds a candle to P.T.A. for me. None do, and there’s a good reason for that.

The story of “There Will Be Blood,” epic only in the time it spans, follows an oil prospector, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his adopted son H.W. They’ve set up an oil plantation in Little Boston, California, having bought the land from a small, poor family led by its strange fifteen year old son Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), already a radical Christian preacher. Eli claims to be a prophet, and his church of the Third Revelation has already begun taking off in a frightening cult-like manner.

The story’s main thrust is the battle between Plainview and Eli, and it’s just delicious. Plainview is a troubled man, conflicted but caring in an odd, self-serving way. Eli is charismatic, incredibly intelligent and incredibly conniving. Both are horrifically selfish and greedy, and the back and forth between them will be one of the many joys I predict this movie to offer. Day-Lewis has always been brilliant, and this could be another jewel (and Oscar) in his collection of amazing performances.

Paul Dano, who hit his stride last year in “Little Miss Sunshine,” has the undesirable job of taking on one of the cinema’s truly titanic acting personas. We’ve seen how few actors can handle that prospect; even DiCaprio suffered beside Day-Lewis. If Dano can pull it off, and sell to the audience that this fifteen year old kid frightens a man as wise (and passionately violent) as Plainview, Dano could easily be this year’s Best Supporting Actor winner. It’s a great role, but it’s also incredibly difficult.

The draft of “There Will Be Blood” I have runs about 153 pages. It begins with a stunning, wordless sequence of Plainview rising from nothing to powerful prospector in a mere five pages. If handled as it’s written, it could be one of Anderson’s most stunning directorial achievements – at least, until the film’s stunning finale between Plainview and Sunday. It is the least-Altman/Scorsese-inspired work from Anderson, and thank God for it.

Some have made mention that the film could be considered a part of Terrence Malick’s wheelhouse, but the script doesn’t particularly lead me to believe this is true. It’s an incredibly focused screenplay, one critical event leading into the next. Where Malick’s work is quite poetic and ethereal, Anderson’s script reads like a script with places to go and names to take. One thing I am sure it will have in common with Malick is the stunning technical perfection (just look at that gorgeous YouTube trailer), and I’m sure this will clean up the tech nominations left and right.

Ironically, one place I sense Oscar weakness for “There Will Be Blood” is in the Best Picture category. Plainview, while oddly sympathetic, is a cold bastard a lot of the time. The violence mentioned in the title is also quite gut-wrenching, although not frequent. The “blood” of the title also refers to being washed by the blood of the lamb and redemption, a common theme in Anderson’s work since his debut, “Sydney” (a.k.a. “Hard Eight”). The screenplay’s conclusion is harrowing, disturbing and utterly perfect; it seals the deal that this is a potential masterpiece and a classic waiting to appear on the big screen. But what makes it so great is exactly why AMPAS might not go for it. Although, let’s be fair: look at the Best Picture winners of the last three years: the third part of a fantasy trilogy, a Martin Scorsese gangster movie and, perhaps most surprising of all, “Crash.” Maybe AMPAS is changing and will embrace films such as this and “No Country for Old Men.” One can only pray that they do.

“There Will Be Blood” may very well turn out to be Anderson’s best film so far. And that’s the best part: so far. He’s only 37 years old. May we have decades upon decades of work such as this from him to come. If he continues like this, his name will be right up there beside the heroes he’s emulated in the past. In fact, he may even wind up above them all.


"he best of the late-90s crop of emerging filmmakers with the one-two-three of “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia” and “Punch-Drunk Love"

My favorite PTA is still his first: "Hard Eight" (aka "Sydney"). It's amazing to think that he was only 26 when it was made.

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