Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Daniel Day Lewis, Dillon Freasier, Paul Dano
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Slick and wealthy, Daniel Plainview (Day Lewis) is the consummate oil man. Travelling around America in the early 20th Century, he buys up each town that can bring him black gold. Alighting upon Little Boston, he and his son, H.W. (Freasier), go about their usual business. Until they clash with the village’s religious community, the Church of the Third Revelation, led by Eli Sunday (Dano).
The struggle between self-appointed preacher and self-proclaimed family man defines and structures this character-driven piece. Defying his youthful exterior, Dano squares up to Day Lewis with a smug self-righteousness that completes their discordant duo; bludgeoning each other with convictions of wealth and faith, the strong-willed antagonists deceive and humiliate with unnerving ferocity.
Make no mistake. The conflict is small scale, but this is big stuff. Paul Thomas Anderson chronicles the life of Plainview’s prospector – a founding father, of sorts, for the nation’s fledgling culture of capitalism (something he nurtures far better than his own son, even as he uses him as a prop to sell the family businessman image). From rise to inevitable fall. Daniel’s successes and failures evoke little sympathy, but supported by a quality cast and smooth, flowing visuals, his unctuous voice is beguiling to witness. As Arvo Part’s jarring chords add to Johnny Greenwood’s menacing orchestra, you soon get immersed in the bleak edginess of the landscape. One thrilling scene sees a barrage of off-beat percussion gradually fall into line as Plainview’s dreams go up in smoke – a masterclass in composition and editing.
Hooked on Day Lewis’ intense charisma, we’re too mesmerised to notice the film’s epic run-time. Held together by the lead and PT Anderson’s flawless direction, this tale of America, ambition and the selfishness of man roams on a leash, but never escapes its tether – free-range cinema of the highest quality.
Greed, fatherhood, religion; they all run through There Will Be Blood viscous veins. As the titular threat becomes ever more imminent, and sons threaten to kill fathers just as fathers quash their sons, Anderson’s arresting experience washes over the audience, until you realise: he’s struck gold again.