As far as I can tell there is no thread open for this film, so let's use it to that effect. I'll start by saying that no film was as anticipated by me in this award season. Paul Thomas Anderson is certainly one of the best American filmmakers working today, and you can reasonably assume he's only getting started. There Will Be Blood takes him into a world he hasn't gone before. Part frontier Western, period picture and intimate character study it is a film that isn't easily found in modern American cinema, and being based (loosely) on Upton Sinclair's novel Oil it is a rare literary adaptation for Anderson. More than anything though this film is dominated from beginning to end by Daniel Day Lewis. Undoubtedly one of the best actors of his generation he is also the most selective, and when he makes a rare film appearance its usually of a larger than life variety. Daniel Plainview is everything a Lewis role should be. He's commanding, multi-faceted, loud, brooding, and always seems to know more than anyone else. His performance is so commanding that anytime someone else has a line you almost feel as though they are stealing from Lewis.
It isn't hard to be on his side. We begin the film with him. An accident causes him to break his leg in the first scene. With that broken leg he crawls to the claim office with a deed for land and some coal. In a few years he's drilling for oil, and in a few more he's ready to ship it himself. This is the American dream we have always heard about. The self made man who gets his hands dirty and profits because of it, whose just a little smarter than anyone else to get what he needs. We never doubt his worth and his ideals. He's always on the job and never allows things to be handled by others. What also helps endear us to him is just how weak every other character is. They are either soft spoken pushovers or sheep allowing themselves to be handled as they may. The main antagonist to Plainview is Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) who never for even a brief second gets us to even tolerate him. Anderson did such a good job in casting Dano that I almost hated the film because this despicable character was in it. I mean I really hated every second of the film Dano was in. This allowed me to be rewarded on two occasions when Plainview finally slaps the hell out of him just as I had been praying for the entire film. In that regard the ending of the film was by far the most rewarding moment of the picture.
The idea that oil corrupts certainly isn't a new one. Nearly everyone is willing to turn their back on family, friends, and even their god for oil, or the promise of wealth. These aren't highly principled people, they speak well of their core values but have no problem sacrificing for their personal gain. An America of rugged individualism popular at the time, but perhaps the lack of principle isn't what Teddy Roosevelt had in mind. Just as in his previous films Anderson allows cinematographer Robert Elswit to take his time with shots. The great oil fire plays out largely in a lengthy master shot and this free and ever moving camera has been with Anderson since the beginning. Lighting is key here and if it isn't all natural lighting, it certainly looks like it. So much of the film is dark in wells, night scenes, with only a flicker of a candle, match, or fire to light the scene. Elswit also shot Michael Clayton but was recognized for his work here with an Oscar nomination.
The film was dedicated to Robert Altman, and at first this might seem the farthest thing from an Altman-esque film. However the muddy and bleak Western landscapes of this film seem at times to be straight out of McCabe and Mrs. Miller. As a film together There Will Be Blood is dare I say it, overrated? However when you enter into a film expecting the greatest thing ever, then meeting those expectations are nearly impossible. Dano was distracting and although he got his, it took far too long and the whiny preaching just wore my nerves down far too early. Lewis has gotten a well deserved Oscar nomination and based on what I've seen this year, I would have no objection to him winning. In many variations 2007 seems like the year of the Western, with this, No Country for Old Men, 3:10 to Yuma, and The Assassination of Jesse James all in one way or another touching on traditions of the Western.