One of the great things about having a teenager that’s into good art; be it music, films, books, etc, is that you get to go back and revisit all those great films they haven’t seen yet but you have. My son and I have been doing this for a couple years now. First it was classic horror films, then it was gangster classics, and now we’re going for more current flicks.
We’ve been talking about hitting up Paul Thomas Anderson for awhile now, and I think we may have discussed Inherent Vice first. But this afternoon we decided to sit down and step into There Will Be Blood, and man oh man did I forget how damn good that film was. I remember watching it right after it came out on video as I snagged a DVD copy right away. I’ve been a huge fan of PT Anderson ever since the wife and I saw Boogie Nights in the theater back in 1997. From there I was all over everything he’s done since. I feel that Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the greatest filmmakers of my generation. He makes cinema. Art house films that feel like blockbusters. He has such a sense of the camera and how a shot should be framed. He also knows how to weird things up. He’s not afraid of anything, and that makes his films very one-of-a-kind.
What I remember about that initial viewing of There Will Be Blood was that it was dark. It was as much a horror film as it was about greed, God, and the need to win at all costs. It was also late when I watched it and I can recall nodding off a couple times. Jumping into a 2 1/2 hour film on greed and ambition, as told through the story of an oil man, is not a good idea when it’s late and you’re already tired. So revisiting it on a Sunday afternoon with my son seemed like a as good a time as any to deep dive back into the world of Daniel Plainview.
Man, this movie really landed with me this time around. Is Daniel-Day Lewis our greatest living actor? I thought he was pretty close before re-watching There Will Be Blood, but after seeing it again I’m firmly convinced that he is indeed. Anderson has impeccable taste when it comes to actors. This is the guy that saw something in Mark Wahlberg for Christ’s sake. He put him in the starring role in Boogie Nights and it turned out to be a genius move. And Adam Sandler in Punchdrunk Love? Incredible. Of course he’s used John C. Reilly, Philip Baker Hall, Julianne Moore, and the great Philip Seymour Hoffman on quite a few occasions. He knows actors and uses them to the best of their ability.
Lewis’ turn as oil man Daniel Plainview is nothing short of brilliant and terrifying. He sounds like John Huston in the body of a sociopathic cowboy. He’s an intelligent man with the scruples of a mad rattlesnake. If you get near him he’ll strike. He also plays well off of Paul Dano’s preacher/showman Eli Sunday. Plainview sees him for what he is, a conman in preacher’s clothing. And Sunday knows what he can get from this oil man, and knows he can use the family’s land as collateral to build his church. These two are oil and water, and watching them together onscreen is mesmerizing.
The entire supporting cast do an amazing job, but this is the tale of Plainview and Sunday. I was also pretty blown away by Jonny Greenwood’s score. For his first time out as film composer Greenwood knocks it out of the park. His strings squelch like Bernard Herrmann scoring Hitchcock. There are moments of great beauty throughout, but also of great tension and brooding suspense. He compliments Robert Elswit’s impeccable cinematography. I’m reminded of the amazing cinematography of Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven watching Elswit’s work, and Jonny Greenwood compliments the visuals wonderfully here.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s work here honestly blew me away. Even from the get-go with his debut Hard Eight he proved he was a natural born filmmaker. His sense of story and character and how to frame it all up with a camera has an epic sweep to it. Even in the small gambler tale starring John C Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow, Philip Baker Hall, and Samuel L Jackson, his attention to detail and quirky humor were evident. His use of music in his films was at Scorsese level with Boogie Nights, and his love for Altman and 70s auteurs was well established with Magnolia. He gave us a quirky dark comedy with Punchdrunk Love, then took a few years to make a sweeping, violent, and surreal tale of an oil man named Daniel Plainview.
Much was said of Daniel-Day Lewis’ amazing performance, but it seemed that the praise stopped short of calling the film a masterpiece. There Will Be Blood lived up to its name, but I also felt it was a stark portrait of just how rough things were in the late 19th century. Lewis’ Plainview digging a hole out in the California wasteland by himself, picking at rock for minerals; to building his first oil well and the tragic circumstances surrounding him becoming a surrogate father to an infant. His gradual rise in the oil industry, as well as his downfall as a human being. His Plainview was a monster with no other goal but to win and gloat at others’ losses. And when he finally reached his pinnacle as a gloriously rich oil baron, he’s still a miserable, bitter, drunken monster. It’s both a historical account and allegory on capitalism and success at any cost, as well as a personal story about a monster who will stop at nothing to lay waste to anything and anyone that threatens him getting what’s owed to him.
I know, sounds like a lot of fun. But seriously, there’s so much to dig into with this film. If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend watching it. And if you have, give it another look. Next up, The Master.