Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is something of an oil man. At least, he will be eventually. He starts out as a silver prospector in New Mexico, uncovering a seam and gradually building himself a small company. One day, he is approached by Paul Sunday (Paul Dano) who believes there is oil on his family’s land. Plainview, now with his adoptive son H.W. (Dillon Freasier) and his crew, including right-hand man Fletcher (Ciarin Hinds) head to the Sunday ranch, where Daniel plans to make his fortune.There Will Be Blood is a very well known movie. Well, it’s got some well known segments in it, at least. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who follows popular culture who hasn’t heard the expression “I drink your milkshake” or “DRAAAAAAINAGE” yet I think if you looked outside of the cinematic circles you’d find very few people who have actually sat through all two and a half hours of this film and come out appreciating it on the other side. This is due to several reasons. Firstly, Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal of Daniel Plainview is excellent, but also easily parodied. On the surface it’s a loud, brash, expressive performance, one that can be recognised simply by roughly estimating his voice and speaking a little louder than usual. Many of us gave it a shot on the recent Paul Thomas Anderson Lambcast. It’s kind of like Jay Leno, who it’s almost impossible to discuss without your voice going up an octave or two. Secondly, the iconic moments in the film are just that; moments. There’s a couple of key scenes, most notably the climactic confrontation is a bowling alley, which feature the most memorable aspects of the film, which of course lend themselves to being cut up and pasted on YouTube, where they can be enjoyed without having to wade through the other 98% of the film. And thirdly, the reason I can imagine a lot of people not necessarily liking the film is that, outside of those key scenes, it’s really quite slow.Now, before you start trying to beat me to death with a bowling pin, I want to say that I do like this film. I saw it in the cinema and I don’t think I really got it back then, but I watched it again recently and I appreciated it a great deal, and not just because of Day-Lewis’ performance, although of course that was the highlight, as it probably is for most people. But I think most people would agree that, whilst this is a good, maybe even great film (I’ve heard it described as one of the greatest from the past few decades, which I think may be a little strong), it’s not one that could be necessarily recommended for everyone to enjoy. There’s long instances of not a lot of action taking place – there’s 14 minutes until the first line of dialogue, let’s not forget – almost all the main characters are despicable people, especially the lead, and to fill those dialogue-free scenes there’s a score from Johnny Greenwood which undoubtedly fits the film well, but could be described as highly irritating after a while. It sounds like a swarm of insects gradually getting closer and closer, just waiting to engulf you in a whirring cloud of stinging death.So why is it good? Well, let’s get it out of the way and talk about Daniel Day-Lewis, who very deservedly won an Oscar for the role, although it wasn’t a terribly strong year looking at the other nominees (Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd? Really?). Day-Lewis has always been a great actor – he’s terrific fun in a supporting role in A Room With A View – and he’s one of those actors who just seems to become the character he is portraying. He isn’t playing Daniel Plainview, he is Daniel Plainview. And yes, I know that sounds pretentious and blow-hardy, but I think it’s true, and it’s not something I’d say about many actors (R.I.P. Philip Seymour Hoffman). Throughout the film Plainview is required to give a variety of speeches, throughout which his tongue never stops moving, even when he isn’t actually speaking. It is forever probing and poking around his mouth, as if he’s so desperate to break it rich that he’s looking for oil even in there. He adopts a son, and then almost immediately turns around and uses the fact that he’s now “a family man” and that H.W. is his “business partner” to entice potential clients. He knows how to talk to people, and how to win them over, which all falls down when he meets the immovable object his unstoppable force was wholly unprepared for; religion, in the form of Paul’s twin brother Eli Sunday (also played by Paul Dano).Dano isn’t an actor I’m particularly taken by – I liked him in Little Miss Sunshine, and I still remember him from the likes of The Girl Next Door – but here he does a good job as a snivelling, very hateable character, who isn’t a pantomime villain, but you still long for his comeuppance. Or maybe that’s just me.Something I really love about the film is the look of it. There’s some really very beautiful scenes, especially those surrounding an accident that occurs at night, sending a gushing fountain of oil up in flames. It’s tragic yet stunning simultaneously, and also allows for the image of Plainview covered in oil and almost lost to the darkness, with nothing but his squinting eyes and mouth being visible against the night. Other scenes are very well staged, such as a dinner scene in which Daniel finds himself in the same restaurant as some businessmen who went sour on a deal with him in the past. Daniel and H.W. are the focus, but blurry in the foreground we always have the bobbing and jerking menu one of the other men is looking at, because they are all Daniel can think about at the forefront of his mind.As with other Paul Thomas Anderson films, this is a movie in which there are some elements that I absolutely love, but which don’t quite tie together to be a truly outstanding film. I’m sure if I watched it a few more times the whole thing would come together a little more for me, but for now I see it as something that is definitely worth watching, but which always fails to impact me with the same ferocity as it does other people. I think I’ll watch it again some time, but not in the near future.
Choose Film 8/10