There Will be Blood is the latest in a string of 2007 films hell bent on depending on an audience’s use of their brain just as much as their eyes. Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson has taken Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel “Oil!” and woven an interesting character piece drenched in dust and darkness. From the start and all the way through to the end you never quite know what to think of protagonist Daniel Plainview, but every move he makes in the film’s two-and-a-half-hour runtime weighs on your mind for days after viewing.
The story begins in 1898 as Daniel Day-Lewis as Plainview is seen digging deep in the bowels of the earth for silver and gold. The dusty scratch of skin against rock and the torturous theme presented by the score performed by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood instantly tells you this isn’t going to be your average drama. The music from the outset implies a Kubrick-ian character study as Plainview could just as easily be compared to Charles Foster Kane (as he has) as he could be to Jack Torrance.
Flash forward 13 years later and Plainview is a different man. He is an oil man, and to hear him speak is to hear a man you may trust, but all the while you realize there is a beast just below the surface that isn’t only there to suck the Earth dry of its oil but to suck dry anything that would stand in his way. Plainview’s fortunes change when he is visited by a man named Paul Sunday. Claiming to know of land rich with oil he sells the secret for a reasonable price. Plainview then descends upon the Sunday family ranch under false pretenses only to begin drilling for oil and changing the landscape of the small town known as Little Boston forever.
There Will be Blood is rich with religious metaphor as Daniel Plainview is something of an antichrist in the middle of a pious small town complete with its very own early 1900s evangelical preacher named Eli. Brother to Paul, Eli’s story is just as rich and intricate as Daniel’s as the two immediately appear to be on a crash course of destruction as a prime example of clashing values and will.
Many have said the film is a departure from typical fare from Paul Thomas Anderson’s norm, which includes Boogie Nights, Punch Drunk Love and Magnolia, but I disagree. Anderson has peppered this film with metaphor and deeper meaning, the problem is finding that meaning and evaluating it to the point you can coherently understand everything he was aiming for. This is something I can’t claim to do.
While I am sure there is more to this film than just a simple character study of the rise and subsequent fall of a man that seems to have bouts with good and evil on a regular basis, I simply can’t figure out what it is. Most people would determine this to be a flaw when it comes to movie-making, and in most cases they would be correct. Where There Will be Blood differs is that it is a satisfyingly dark story on its surface and allowing viewers to evaluate that is enough to make it a noteworthy film. The secret lies in figuring out what is beneath the surface, and if that were to ever be revealed I think it would turn this film into one for the ages as opposed to simply being known as one of the better and more intriguing films of 2007 alone.