In There Will Be Blood Paul Thomas Anderson lifts up the veil that has been covering a sordid chapter of American history: oil prospecting at the turn of the century. As in the original story by Upton Sinclair on which this film is based (Oil!), people died, properties passed on through generations were lost and men walked about with greed on their mind and in their heart.
Daniel Plainview (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) is one such character and There Will Be Blood is, in a way, also his story. The part of Plainview is written in such a way as to not leave any doubts as to his vast, single great motive in life: money. But because this is cinema, and because we have actors like Day-Lewis who take such control of their body to render every emotion and every travail, Daniel Plainview comes to us as more of a testament.
A testament to the male’s sometimes singular predictability and his dim prospects for change. It is a paradox, isn’t it? Because Plainview appears to us, at first, as a good-natured, family man. During one afternoon one of his associates wading at the bottom of an oil well gets knocked cold by falling gear and dies. Plainview takes the man’s infant child under his wing, makes him his apprentice. The boy (Dillon Freasier) is splendid as an oil man, a perfect miniature of his adoptive father.
He relentlessly scours Texas in search of oil, invoking not God for inspiration (to the dismay of many of the people he encounters along the way) but something hidden inside him and which we never discover. Day-Lewis has said, ‘I suppose I have a highly developed capacity for self-delusion, so it’s no problem for me to believe I’m somebody else.’ Watching him play the guarded but bellicose Daniel Plainview is riveting.
Day-Lewis is in such control of his character, inhabiting his leathery skin with such relish, leisure but also precision that it would be a surprise if there wasn’t a Day-Lewis upset during the upcoming award season. What is original about Blood is that Daniel Plainview, who few would dare contend with, does not meet his match where anticipated. But of course, how brilliant! Plainview’s greed, lack of savoir-faire and dreadful no-knockin’ about ways can only be matched to the curated manners of a man of the cloth (Paul Dano).
Soon into this long-arching story (Blood’s arc extends over approximately twenty-five years) Eli Sunday will become the thorn in Plainview’s side and their long-reaching confrontation will extend all the way until the parting shot. Anything else is better left unsaid. You should go see There Will Be Blood.