Reviews

There Will Be Blood

However fictional, Daniel Plainview is like history come to life -- more Frankenstein's monster than wax doll.


There Will Be Blood

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier, Ciarán Hinds, Kevin J. O'Connor, Mary Elizabeth Barrett
Distributor: Paramount
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Paramount Vantage
First date: 2007
US DVD Release Date: 2008-04-08
Trailer

There Will Be Blood is one of those movies that makes home viewing seem small and inadequate. It's a boon, of course, to be able to watch and rewatch this film in a sharp widescreen transfer without paying $10-12 a pop, and hopefully the DVD version will be pulled off the shelf by future generations (one or two, anyway, before everything is downloadable). But Paul Thomas Anderson's idiosyncratic American epic has a fierceness of both character and ambition that feels native to a big screen; the home version is more a faithful reproduction.

It's not that this is a mountain-and-plains movie that piggybacks nature's accomplishments to a Best Cinematography Oscar -- the striking photography-quality compositions and steady gaze of Robert Elswit more than justify that award. In fact, despite the open vistas, Anderson's film is striking in its intimacies. Having previously taken an epic, near-operatic approach to everyday struggles in Magnolia, here Anderson captures early 20th century capitalism by zeroing in with obsessive focus on the life of one Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis, in an Oscar-winning and already deservedly legendary performance) -- its devotion to this fictional oil magnate puts most genuine biopics to boilerplate, rise/fall/rise shame.

There are other characters, but the film begins and ends with Plainview on his own, and he gets all of the juiciest dialogue in Anderson's accomplished screenplay. Actually, he gets the juiciest silences, too; the film begins with a mesmerizing dialogue-free sequence where Daniel variously mines for silver and claws his way across the plains. This is not to discount the contributions of the uniformly excellent cast, especially Paul Dano as Plainview's unofficial nemesis, a local preacher whose family's land Plainview covets; and Dillon Freasier as Plainview's young son. But Day-Lewis, with his rich and precise elocution, barely (and sometimes not at all) hidden contempt of "most people", and, yes, milkshake-sipping histrionics, dominates Anderson's landscape.

Anderson seems willing to let the film speak for itself, and for the Day-Lewis performance to more or less speak for the film; he's as visible on the two-disc DVD as he is during the feature (which is to say, very visible, but not literally). The bonus features on the second disc have a lot of familiar basics -- deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes material, trailers -- but without the usual subdivisions and introductions. Though they are separated on the menu, a "play all" feature lets you watch just about everything together, a 40-minute compendium of There Will Be Blood materials that takes on its own long-montage rhythm.

The collection kicks off with a series of historical snapshots, intercut with shots from both sides of the camera, establishing the inspiration for here-and-there details of the production, including costumes, production design, and cinematography. After a couple of trailers, there's some deleted material -- not much compared to some movies (Anderson seems to have shot what he needed), but including one fully finished sequence rather than the typical dribs and drabs of trimmed footage.

Called "Fishing" on the menu, it explains a little more about the painstaking trials of preparing to drill for oil: a piece of equipment has come off in the mine, and the workers must fish around for it -- for weeks, it turns out. In the meantime, Abel Sunday (David Willis) tries to convince Plainview -- "busy" but essentially just watching on the sidelines -- to visit his son Eli's church, accept God into his life, and so on. The moment at which Plainview finally sees fit to release a succinct bit of honest loathing is a near-classic; maybe there just wasn't room for a movie full of such moments.

This economy -- There Will Be Blood is a long film and a complex film, but not an indulgent one -- may also explain the relative paucity of disc-filling extras. The compilation ends with an alternate take of Day-Lewis and Freasier in a restaurant scene (purposefully agonizing, if slightly hilarious, in the original film). At the tail end, Freasier giggles, and Day-Lewis looks down, as if about to break up himself, before Anderson calls "cut" -- we see only the edge of Day-Lewis out of character, or of the director's literal voice. No interviews, no commentaries to talk us through.

A little indirect context comes from another extra. Isolated from the rest of the disc is "The Story of Petroleum", a '20s-era government-produced silent half-hour short about oil mining and production. Like the photographs, "Petroleum" offers some library-style additional research material without additional commentary, explaining and illustrating mechanics of equipment and procedures glimpsed in the feature (as well as "Fishing").

The only modern comment is a new soundtrack accompanying the old footage -- a selection of material by Jonny Greenwood, who composed There Will Be Blood's distinctly menacing score. It's an interesting time capsule, but illustrates Anderson's effectiveness in using this material in the peripheries of his more personal story. However fictional, Daniel Plainview is like history come to life -- more Frankenstein's monster than wax doll.

9

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image