There Will Be Blood, the fifth film by writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, represents a career turn that few others are capable of. Anderson’s first four films, Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and Punch-Drunk Love were the work of an efficient, skilled filmmaker. Magnolia and Boogie Nights, in particular, suggested that Anderson may have a loftier vision than originally thought. With more experience under his belt, Anderson wrote There Will Be Blood. Three feature-length films later, There Will Be Blood is still Anderson’s defining masterpiece; it may remain that way for some time to come.
Loosely based on Oil!, a novel by Upton Sinclair, There Will Blood follows the story of Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), an insatiable oil tycoon. Early in Daniel’s life and shortly after starting his oil company, one of Daniel’s workers is killed in an accident. The accident leaves the worker’s son, H.W. (Dillon Freasier), parentless. Daniel adopts the child, dragging him from business meeting to business meeting. With H.W. in tow, Daniel is able to tout himself as a religious, family man instead of the greedy, incessant manipulator he really is.
By chance, Daniel is approached by a gentle young man named Paul Sunday (Paul Dano) who tells Daniel of an oil reserve under his family’s California ranch. Daniel travels to California to swindle the family, only to find Paul’s twin brother Eli (Dano) there to negotiate in Paul’s place. Eli is more shark than minnow, forcing Daniel to pay more than he would like for the land.
A small community is established around a local church (pastored by Eli) and Daniel’s drilling operation. Eli is a constant source of ire for Daniel. Throughout the film, the two seek to humiliate and destroy one another, slowly revealing their true natures to those around them. Daniel and his foil Eli are (not so subtle) representatives of two core American tenets: capitalism and religion, respectively.
Day-Lewis and Dano play their roles exceptionally well. Picking a favorite Day-Lewis performance is like picking a favorite flavor of ice cream; each is distinct and wonderful in its own way, but really, they’re all great. Still, this could be Day-Lewis’ best work. For Dano, meanwhile, just going tête-à-tête with one of the masters of the profession is impressive enough, as Day-Lewis would have blown a lesser actor off the screen. Dano not only holds his own, but captivates as a larger-than-life, bellowing evangelical.
Jonny Greenwood, lead guitarist of the band Radiohead, composed There Will Be Blood’s score. Like the movie, the score is discordant and unrelenting. Greenwood has gone on to pen the score for each of Anderson’s movies since There Will Be Blood, including the exquisite sounds behind Phantom Thread. Master cinematographer Robert Elswit was behind the camera, constantly reminding the audience of the vast nothingness of the American West and the desolate frontier of unchecked capitalism. The costume and set designers also did their jobs; the best films are made by a group of serious professionals executing a singular vision, and the visual elements were no different.
With There Will Be Blood, Anderson cemented his legacy as one of the grandest auteurs of the era. There Will Be Blood is a merciless tour de force. It stands as one of the most exemplary movies of 2007, the decade, and the century.