Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 158 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, French, Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: April 8, 2008
Review Date: March 24, 2008
Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood takes a coruscating look at an ambitious, cold-hearted, and cutthroat oilman. It’s as unforgiving and unblinking as Citizen Kane in its single-minded focus on one man (though without the cinematic flourishes in writing and direction that make Kane one of the greatest of cinematic creations). Yet, despite the main character’s ruthless ambition, his lack of warmth or human mercy, director Anderson keeps our interest in the man high. Each new scene has something to reveal to us about the man’s soulless, classless roguishness.
Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Daniel Plainview, and during the course of the film, we get to see twenty-nine years of his life as he grows from a lowly mineral prospector digging by himself with jerrybuilt equipment to that of a corrupt oil baron with wealth, fame, and nothing left to live for. In many ways, you’ll think of Jett Rink from Giant (the James Dean character) whose career path seems astonishingly similar to Daniel’s. Only here, we get to see much more of the struggle for riches, the crooked deals he makes using his rich, mellifluous voice that reels in the suckers, and much more about the people he works with, works around, and mows down on his way to the top. It’s an ugly picture of a corrupt human mercenary, but just try to look away once it starts.
Writer-director Anderson touches on many of the swindles, both in the oil business and in the religious revival business, that were popular during the 1898-1927 time frame of the story. (These themes were contained in Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil! which the screenplay is freely adapted from.) To get to the religious angle, he uses the character of Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) who is Daniel’s nemesis for much of the film, a smarmy faith healer who must wait patiently to try to avenge humiliations heaped upon his family by the always too-quick Daniel. The several confrontations these two men have over the space of decades make for some truly mesmerizing viewing.
Daniel Day-Lewis won just about every award going this past season for his Daniel Plainview. It’s a showy part to be sure and a very physical one, too, requiring back-breaking labor, bodily punishment, and the need to realistically age almost thirty years. Vocally, he seems to be channeling the deep baritone speaking voice of director John Huston whose words always rolled off the tongue with such ease and intelligence. And it’s the intelligence of the acting where the performance really rises to the fore: we see the wheels turning as Daniel makes his deals, as he answers questions evasively from those he’s trying to best in his land deals. There are many highlights to the performance, but most unforgettable are the fake religious conversion sequence and his final meeting with his son H.W. (Russell Harvard), one of the most heart-rending and emotionally draining confessions in the history of movies. The final showdown with Eli will also likely leave one limp from the explosive combustion of these two enemies.
Others do get their moments to shine, even when they have to share the spotlight with always attention-getting Day-Lewis. Paul Dano gets the frustrated preacher Eli just right, even if his aging isn’t quite as believable as Day Lewis’. Dillon Freasier as the youthful incarnation of son H.W. commands attention through stillness and silence. Kevin J. O'Connor as Daniel’s brother Henry makes us a believer while Ciaran Hinds as Daniel’s second-in-command Fletcher is solid if unspectacular, due more to the writing than his performance. The character isn't delved into very deeply.
Character studies sometimes run out of steam causing viewers to tire of them before the end of the film is reached. Despite its over two-and-a-half hour running time, there is no end to the depths of explorations of the infamous Daniel Plainview. Paul Thomas Anderson has given us one of the most fascinating corrupt characters in the history of movies. There Will Be Blood is a chilling tale of a true human monster.
The film’s 2.35:1 Panavision aspect ratio is presented in anamorphic video. Sharpness in close-ups and medium shots is sensational, though some will be disappointed by softness in long shots. There is some aliasing in certain tight line structures (wheat fields, a wire fence), but it’s only occasional. Flesh tones are wonderfully accurate, and while the earlier scenes seem to be lighter in contrast than later ones, color overall is good. As the contrast increases, the depths of the blacks also increase so that by the final scenes, they are as rich and inky as one could hope for with excellent shadow detail as well. The film is divided into 8 “Reels” (as they‘re called on the disc).
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is a striking sound mix that will exploit your system in surprising ways for a serious drama. Explosions carry incredible power which may damage some systems if the volume level is not carefully observed before beginning the movie, while the unusual music score by Jonny Greenwood gives the rears a major workout.
The first disc in this set contains the film only. All bonus features (which surprisingly total less than an hour) are found on the second disc in the set.
“There Will Be Blood: Pics, Research, Etc.” is a 15½ minute montage of old still photographs, newspaper clippings, newsreels, and silent film which all helped the director find the look and tone for his movie. These old references are shown in counterpoint to moments in the film which reflect the look or feel of the research materials. It’s presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Two trailers for the film are offered, both in anamorphic widescreen. The teaser trailer runs 1½ minutes while the theatrical trailer runs 2 minutes.
Two deleted scenes are presented as separate bonus features. The first runs 6¼ minutes while the second runs 3¼ minutes, both in anamorphic widescreen.
One outtake running 2½ minutes features Day-Lewis and Dillon Freasier in a lengthy take with some ad-libbing that eventually breaks both of them up. It is also presented in anamorphic widescreen.
The longest bonus feature is The Story of Petroleum, a 26½ minute silent film (with a new score by Jonny Greenwood) made in 1923. It follows the route of petroleum products from the initial surveying of land for drilling through the discovery of oil, its being piped to a tank, its refinery into various products, and the transportation to a sales destination. Several clips from this film were instrumental in Paul Thomas Anderson’s ideas about the look of his movie.
There Will Be Blood is a warts-and-all fictional screen biography of a ruthless but strangely compelling businessman. It’s long, but it’s never dull, and it features terrific performances and a period look that’s sheer perfection. For admirers of serious drama, it’s a definite winner.