Despite what the title suggests, “There Will Be Blood” is not a horror film, nor is there much bloodshed onscreen. Instead, it is the story of a man who loses his soul when he is consumed by his own selfishness and unquenchable greed.
We are first introduced to Daniel Plainview, brought to life by the great Daniel Day-Lewis, at the dawn of the 20th century. He is in California looking to strike it big in the booming oil business, and during the opening 15 minutes — mesmerizingly told sans dialogue — he succeeds.
Then over the course of the next two hours, Plainview decomposes in front of our eyes. We see him continually backstab everyone in his life and commit heinous acts, all while refusing to live for anyone but himself. In spite of this depravity, his journey is fascinating as it unfolds, and there are even brief moments where you begin to like him. However, the film’s main downfall is that it never makes a purpose behind his collapse clear.
Paul Thomas Anderson, the brilliant director behind “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia,” fails to establish a lesson or moral truism to accompany the bleak tale. On the one hand, it wants to be a cautionary story in much the same way as “Citizen Kane,” yet it continually shrouds itself in vagueness, which impedes the development of a thesis.
Plainview’s inner destruction — which culminates during the conclusion — seems to be his desired outcome all along, almost to the point where he wishes to end up alone and waste away with his vapid wealth. Perhaps that he is never held responsible for his evil deeds is what is most disturbing, leaving us wondering if it can be considered punishment when he reaps what he desires.
You almost have to look to Jonny Greenwood’s dark score for any answers, which is superbly unsettling in its own right. Mirroring the rot and decay of Plainview’s moral sinews, it often communicates his state of mind better than the actions onscreen. The work of Greenwood — the famed guitarist of Radiohead — beautifully serves as its own story within the larger picture and delivers an unforgettable impact.
While “There Will Be Blood” is a radical departure for Anderson, he is unable to fully encapsulate the boldness of the change, which was loosely inspired by Upton Sinclair’s novel “Oil!” On the other hand, Day-Lewis’ performance is nothing short of masterful. His powerhouse display, combined with the high respect he has from the Academy, is sure to position him as a frontrunner in this year’s Best Actor race. Nevertheless, the lack of a discernable message prevents the film itself from being the masterpiece it could have been.