Long before the phrase "I drink your milkshake" wedged its way into our social consciousness, 'There Will Be Blood' earned widespread praise and enviable reviews. Director Paul Thomas Anderson ('Boogie Nights,' 'Magnolia,' 'Punch Drunk Love') had taken some big risks with the film’s setting, tone, and subject matter, but it seemed to have paid off. In no time, the film captured the affections of Academy voters who garnished it with nominations for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Adapted Screenplay, and Cinematography, among others. All at once, Anderson’s incredibly challenging look at a man driven by greed was being pitted against another exceptional exploration of human depravity, 'No Country For Old Men.' When I sat down in the theater to see it for the first time this past winter, I was already asking myself... could Anderson’s oil epic really live up to its critical hype?
Loosely based on the 1927 novel "Oil!" by satirist Upton Sinclair, 'There Will Be Blood' tells the tale of Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), an upstart oilman who uses his charm to scam profitable property from gullible landowners. With his adopted son, H.W. (Dillon Freasier), by his side, he brazenly flaunts the humble roots of his "family business" and becomes a fairly successful oil baron. However, in the small town of Little Boston, California, he encounters an equally duplicitous and manipulative young minister named Eli Sunday ('Little Miss Sunshine's Paul Dano). After Eli demands that Daniel donate a hefty sum of money to his congregation, he attempts to use Plainview’s presence in Little Boston to promote his church and interests. When Daniel refuses, Eli makes the conflict personal and becomes both a force of retribution and a reflection of Plainview’s own black heart.
To cut to the chase, I don’t think critics have praised 'There Will Be Blood' enough. Anderson’s slow-burn story ignites his vision of the early 1900s and delivers a memorable morality tale with more than a few bleak implications. The everyday townsfolk that populate Little Boston become pawns in the hands of Anderson’s two increasingly formidable villains -- each man epitomizes greed, lust, and corruption, stepping over corpses and trampling on victims in pursuit of their selfish goals. While Anderson has often used his films to dissect the struggles of well-intentioned characters, 'There Will Be Blood' is an entirely different beast. In pitting Plainview against Sunday, Anderson exposes the darkest depths of the human heart and the extremes to which such insatiable monsters will go to satisfy their hunger. Notably, his screenplay never targets the politics or troubles with the modern oil industry, but instead presents a compelling case that any business blessed with obscene wealth and absolute control will rob its patrons blind.
Even so, what’s a great screenplay without great actors? Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano deliver powerhouse performances that make the screen pulse with palpable tension and hate. Each actor deftly portrays a man whose very existence enrages the other -- the two create such a seething and self-destructive rivalry that the minister’s presence is still felt even when he disappears for a large chunk of the second half of the film. His inevitable return pits the two performers against each other once again in a final, surreal scene that defies explanation and analysis. I know some people may find Day-Lewis’ portrayal of Plainview’s mounting madness unintentionally funny, but the laughter I experienced occurred as a result of the dread and discomfort I felt as the menacing oil baron came unhinged. Day-Lewis once again proves he deserves all the accolades and awards he's received -- indeed, I'd argue he deserves a seat among the greatest actors in cinematic history.
To top it all off, 'There Will Be Blood' is one of those rare films that break from Hollywood’s reliance on a three-act structure to provide viewers with a multi-faceted experience akin to reading a book. The opening chapter of the film is bathed in complete silence -- in fact, the first uttered words come twenty minutes into the film as Plainview formally introduces himself to a group of landowners. Of course, the beginning of the film has already introduced us to the real Plainview, a shrewd tycoon more interested in his pursuits than his health or well being. As the film progresses, Anderson’s "novel" unfolds with careful interactions, a series of vague encounters, and a complex father/son relationship that leaves us constantly wondering if Plainview actually cares for H.W. or not. As the years pass, the story effectively scrutinizes affection, capitalism, manipulation, and disillusionment, among many other themes. By the time the credits roll, 'There Will Be Blood' feels much larger than its two-and-a-half hour runtime affords the casual viewer. Despite its disheartening tone and depressing conclusions, by film's end I had the sudden urge to start over and plunge through it all again.
'There Will Be Blood' is a captivating study of the adage, "absolute power corrupts absolutely." Anderson’s direction, Day-Lewis and Dano’s performances, Robert Elswit’s gorgeous cinematography, and Jonny Greenwood’s unsettling musical score create a perfect union of story, character, and atmosphere. I could go on and on about the aspects of the film I adored, but I’m sure my exuberance has already worn out its welcome. All in all, 'There Will Be Blood' is easily my favorite film of 2007 and one that I plan to revisit many times in the coming years.
’There Will Be Blood’ features a striking 1080p/VC-1 transfer that thoroughly outshines the DVD released in April. Shedding the muddy colors and artifacts that make the SD edition look like a relative relic, this new Blu-ray edition presents Anderson’s bleak palette with stable colors, natural skintones, and deep blacks. Exterior scenes are bathed in raw sunlight, but the transfer’s contrast levels handle the hot whites and heavy shadows with ease. Better still, I didn’t detect any source noise, artifacting, or pesky DNR -- the film has a moderate veneer of grain, but it remains steady and unobtrusive throughout the presentation. Detail is startling at times, rendering everything from facial features to scattered rocks with sharp and accurate textures and edges. Beads of sweat melt down Plainview’s face, and clouds of dust dance across the frame. While such details don’t appear to be as refined as they are on the BD release of ‘No Country For Old Men,’ I suspect the slight discrepancy is merely the result of the different shooting techniques employed by the two directors.
While I did catch minor hints of trailing edge enhancement, the only real complaint I have with this transfer is that its black levels are occasionally inconsistent. Early scenes in the silver mineshaft and later shots of Plainview’s nighttime excavations have a hard time resolving the darkest portions of the screen -- areas that should be pitch black fail to overcome their deepest grays. Even so, 'There Will Be Blood' looks far better than I expected and often made me sit up and take notice. Fans of the film will be exceedingly pleased at the results.
The hushed cruelty and silver-tongued exchanges that dominate 'There Will Be Blood' may not seem like ideal components for a riveting soundfield, but the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track on this release proves otherwise. Dialogue is crystal clear, perfectly prioritized, and naturally weighted to the environments in each scene. Plainview’s growls are delicately bolstered by low-end LFE support and the lightest words spoken by H.W. are clean and stable. The sheer volume of conversations and the periods of silence in the film make for a fairly front heavy soundfield, but even in its dullest moments, the track boasts excellent transparency and precise directionality.
Weaved throughout the mix are two other crucial elements to the track’s success -- an impeccably realistic ambient presence and a haunting musical score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. Each component works hand in hand to create a thoroughly immersive mix. Interior and exterior scenes pack the rear channels with subtle effects, while Greenwood’s unsettling period instruments creep into the soundfield from every direction. Taken as a whole, Paramount’s TrueHD track nearly replicates the theatrical experience, faithfully enhancing the tone and mood of every scene.
One word of warning: those who haven’t seen the film before may be surprised that the rear channels don’t pack many aggressive audible assaults. Eruptions of oil and collapsing rigs provide the only traditional "wow" moments, but these events are few and far between. 'There Will Be Blood' isn’t about a giant monster crashing through New York -- it’s about a man’s self-destructive quest for wealth. While a subdued audio track of this nature may not turn heads in the middle of Best Buy, it will certainly appeal to fans and satisfy even the most discerning audiophiles.
’There Will Be Blood’ arrives on Blu-ray with all of the supplemental features that are included on the standard DVD. All of the content is presented in 1080p, but unfortunately this package only brushes the surface -- a director’s commentary or a significant behind-the-scenes documentary would have helped illuminate the methods behind the madness of this distinct and divisive film.
’There Will Be Blood’ may leave some viewers scratching their heads, but I found the film a gripping exploration of greed, power, and manipulation. Two months after its DVD release, Paramount has finally brought ‘There Will Be Blood’ to Blu-ray with an excellent video transfer and a satisfying TrueHD audio track. As it stands, the only disappointing aspect of this release is an anemic and overly-simplistic supplemental package, but that doesn't detract from the things that really matter. A fantastic film and an impressive technical presentation make this release an easy recommend.