DVD - Image A- Sound A Extras B+
BD - Image A Sound A+ Extras B+
starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Kevin J. O'Connor, Ciarán Hinds
screenplay by Paul Thomas Anderson, based on the novel OIL! by Upton Sinclair
directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
by Walter Chaw The jarring, discordant first notes of Jonny Greenwood's score announce that Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood will realize the promise shown by the auteur's closest analog, Punch-Drunk Love. Almost experimental in its marriage of noise and vision, it's reminiscent in that regard of a Sergio Leone epic about the foundation of a specific aspect of the American character. Pithy that such a thing plays like watching an insect under glass: There Will Be Blood is accurately described as a piece of existential entomology--Kafka somehow married to Upton Sinclair (on whose OIL! the film is formally based). It's a modern, and modernist, take on The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, starring an actor who may be the best of his generation turning in a performance destined for legend, though I'd offer that when Daniel Day-Lewis actually does go off the rails in making a mad catchphrase out of "I drink your milkshake!", it's proof that the rest of his work here is really rather restrained. The best movie of the year if not for No Country For Old Men, it shares with that masterpiece this idea that money corrupts absolutely, its venom catalyzing on contact. Choosing to open with a silent 16-minute introduction that sees Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis)--digging for riches by himself in what could be an outtake from Sierra Madre--discovering his share of silver and parlaying it into an oil empire that will eventually leave him alone, misanthropic, and finally insane, Anderson is clearly implying that material pursuits mine the humanity from mortal loam. While he has disdained political reads of the picture, the philosophical ramifications of Anderson's barren exteriors held up against Plainview's barren interiors--the both of them with endless potential, it would appear, for bottomless wells of bubbling black--are subtext enough, if not, of course, inextricable from politics.
There Will Be Blood is at the bottom about childhood: primal wills to power through the erecting of monuments, facilitating seminal eruptions and leading us to conclude that the end product of all that unnatural creation is mutual, spiritual destruction. Behold the end of Man at the hands of His things. It's the Frankenstein story retold in the birth of American empire-building, and the fascination it holds for me is in quintessential film brat Anderson's vision of it as the course of a John Huston manqué constructing for himself a very particular reality. His Plainview is perhaps the very definition of--perhaps literally--infernal: birthed in the earth, his interests are in the incestuous raping of it. If there's ever an adaptation of Paradise Lost, on the one hand I hope Anderson directs it, and on the other I wonder if he hasn't already done so with this piece.
Set against Plainview is Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), a brimstone preacher exorcising his flock in the Church of the Third Revelation who, during one of several tour de force sequences in the film, lays Plainview bare before his congregation. This set-piece finishes with Plainview whispering something we can't hear to Eli--followed soon after by Eli leaving by train on a mission to parts unknown. There Will Be Blood is remarkably tight for something running close to 160 minutes, laying out its themes with the precision of the pipeline Plainview runs from his claim to the ocean. What Eli and Plainview have is each other (there are no women of any consequence in the picture); and what their union produces is an un-bridgeable breach between primary and secondary creations.
In a film doomed to be remembered for moments, those moments where Plainview nurses his adoptive son in the wake of a derrick-related accident are nevertheless worth singling out as some of the most tender father/son interactions in film. And yet, there's something in Day-Lewis's performance, just underneath the surface, that hints that this relationship is stunted because it has no biological basis. It's an idea Plainview articulates as prelude to his final disintegration: that no product of his industry has been sanctioned by anything "natural" and, more, that Eli's pursuits of earthly kingdoms through his fanatical evangelicalism are every bit as infertile when lacking biological marinade. There Will Be Blood is in fact astonishing on this point, suggesting that the desire to parent is the essence of Man and that this essence, if misdirected into unnatural pursuits, inevitably results in ruin.
Taken with Punch-Drunk Love, Anderson's emerging identity as a modernist poet engages in a closer examination of the products of romance--and the devastation of isolation. That There Will Be Blood is singular is without question (it's also Anderson's best film), but where it soars is in the director's progression from Magnolia's reductive (read: maddening) religiosity into what is here a bold, bald equation of the fruitless pursuit of capitalism with the essential, utter emptiness of religion. They're one and the same, it seems; if this is in fact what Anderson's believed all along, then There Will Be Blood is the Rosetta stone for the rest of his oeuvre. Originally published: January 4, 2008.
by Bill Chambers Well here it is at last: the haircut scene, a still from which was so ubiquitous that many critics had themselves convinced they'd actually seen it when There Will Be Blood previewed last Christmas. It's a sweet little moment entirely summed up by said production still, as it happens, and though its elision is left maddeningly unexplained, it's nice to see it preserved. Likewise a 6-minute sequence wherein Daniel and co. "go fishing," i.e., send a trawler down a collapsed well to remove the debris that would inhibit further drilling. A lot more expository than anything in the final product, it would've been the one time we were not mostly left to infer what's going on at the derricks or in the mines, which might account for its removal: it feels like the kind of thing a screenwriter writes to flaunt research, and the capper is a similarly 'on the nose' exchange between Daniel and Abel in which the latter tells the former to get religion and the former tells the latter to get stuffed. The one thing you can't fault about it is the filmmaking--Anderson continues to bring his 'A' game in a directorial capacity, and indeed some of this footage (like the My Darling Clementine shot of Daniel lounging on a porch) proved indispensable enough to find a home in the finished film regardless.
There Will Be Blood's teaser and theatrical trailers join a long-ish outtake (precious in that it shows poker-faced Dillon Freasier cracking up at Daniel Day-Lewis's antics the second "cut" is called) and a 15-minute montage that compares several of the movie's tableaux with research materials largely culled from the Sinclair Oil Company's educational silent The Story of Petroleum (26 mins.), itself included in full on the second platter of this 2-Disc Collector's Edition. (It's single-handedly transformed from something innocuous into something foreboding by its repurposing of Jonny Greenwood's There Will Be Blood score.) All of these extras are presented in anamorphic widescreen--save the 4:3 The Story of Petroleum--and 5.1 Dolby Digital. Over on the first disc resides There Will Be Blood proper in a 2.40:1, 16x9-enhanced transfer that at its best evokes a beautifully-mastered film from the '70s but sometimes takes on a fuzzy texture that reduces grain to video noise. Although I had to crank it up past reference level, the accompanying DD 5.1 audio impresses with guttural bass and crisp, clear dialogue. For what it's worth, not fond of the cardboard packaging, however elegant, since it's virtually impossible to remove the discs from their individual pockets without smudging them. Originally published: March 31, 2008.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Due to some unsightly edge-enhancement, There Will Be Blood on Blu-ray isn't quite the revelation I might've hoped for, but just the same I wouldn't think twice about upgrading. Compared to the standard-def rendering of the film, the BD's 1080p presentation looks similar but fine-tuned, having rid itself of all those compression artifacts that clog up the craggier exteriors on DVD. And in terms of added depth, that overhead shot of the oil crater is particularly chasmic in HiDef. Audio meanwhile gets a lift from a Dolby TrueHD track, sporting noticeably better dynamics than the DD 5.1 default of the DVD. The Collector's Edition's supplements return here and have been upgraded to 1080p, and the chintzy-looking cover art, for what it's worth, is reversible, with a design echoing the film's theatrical one-sheet occupying the flipside. Originally published: June 16, 2008.