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Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #144: There Will Be Blood

There is a lot of drama to be pumped out of the oil rush, pardon the pun, but add in the direction of P.T Anderson and the usual method performance of Daniel Day-Lewis and you’ve got yourself a winner. There Will Be Blood (2007) is somewhat of an odd beast, with razor sharp music by Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead, scenery chewing performances, and themes about greed and religion. On paper the story and historical setting might seem a tad dull for some people, but the end result is surprisingly entertaining in large part thanks to Anderson’s screenplay that provides one of the best quotes of the last ten years: “I drink your milkshake!”

This was actually one of my first Daniel Day-Lewis movies, despite the fact he has delivered plenty of award-winning performances throughout his career. Upon hearing one of his many great monologues in the trailer I was immediately hooked. Who was this guy and how was he speaking like that? He came off part psychopath, part businessman. How odd how that these two characteristics can sometimes overlap. The movie came out late in 2007 when I was studying at the University of Sherbrooke and I remember other students complaining the title was misleading since there actually isn’t that much blood spilled. True, but that is a literal approach to the title. I believe the meaning is, there will be violence and madness all because of greed. In other words, business as usual with capitalism.

Initially Day-Lewis’ character, Daniel Plainview, seems to be a decent enough person. After a fellow worker dies in an oil well in 1902 California he adopts the man’s son, H.W, and introduces him as his partner in business meetings. With his actual grown-up partner Fletcher (Ciaran Hinds) Daniel does well for himself amid the oil boom, but then gets enticed to take his business to the next level when Paul Sunday (Paul Dano) tells him of a potentially large oil deposit below his family’s farm in Little Boston. Before leaving Paul asks Daniel if he is religious, since this will be important when dealing with his twin brother Eli (also Dano) the local pastor.     

It turns out Eli is not only religious, but just as savvy as Daniel when it comes to money. When he discovers there is indeed a fortune in oil beneath the ground on the Sunday property Daniel tries to buy it cheap, but Eli asks for more money, which he says is for his church. Thus the first shot is fired in the war between the oilman and the churchman, each vying for as much power and money as they can get once Little Boston begins to expand thanks to the oil industry. More oil means more money, more money means more employees, which means more buildings.

It also means more risks, leading to a spectacular accident as an oil well erupts and is caught on fire, creating what looks like a mini-volcano on the California plains. The accident renders H.W permanently deaf, but Daniel seems more preoccupied with the ocean of oil he has uncovered. The richer he becomes, the more unhinged and violent he becomes, to the point he threatens to slash the throat of a competitor when he questions his parenting skills.

While Daniel’s power resides in the money he accumulates, Eli’s resides in the religion he uses to sway people his way. During one of his sermons he says he is physically grabbing the devil and throwing it right out the door, wildly gesticulating as though he was in direct contact with the almighty. Yet Daniel sees right through him and after the sermon tells him “that was one hell of a show.” A show indeed. Given both these characters are hypocrites, Daniel for claiming to be a family man, and Eli for claiming to be a man of God; you cannot root for either of them. However given the choice, I am going to root for the oilman to kick the false prophet’s ass to the ground.

The movie’s final ten minutes almost feel like a mini-movie as Daniel and Eli have their final confrontation in Daniel’s huge mansion bought by his ever growing fortune. It is then that both actors give it everything they’ve got, with Day-Lewis starting off slow and defeated, but then finding new energy and delivering that great milkshake line. It is tough to be as good as Day-Lewis, but the younger Dano does his best to keep up. It may not be a bloody fight as the title seemingly advertised, but damn is it ever entertaining.


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