It’s about fathers and sons, death and dominion, land and freedom, men and monsters. It’s about how compassion and money can’t mix, how greed isn’t good, how competition breeds violence and gives birth to beasts… And Daniel Day-Lewis’ Daniel Plainview is a beast indeed: cheating, stealing, killing, hoarding land to rape for oil, using his adopted son as sympathy to push through his devilish pitches, guzzling whisky as if to douse the fires of his loathing. (“I hate most people. I want to make enough money to get away from them.”) Plainview is venal, but he’s not ‘evil’. There Will Be Blood is a horror film with capitalism as the monster. Paul Thomas Anderson casts Plainview’s story as a great American tragedy: a man who sacrifices his humanity for status, whose craving for freedom leaves him alone and insane. It’s Anderson’s Citizen Kane, with Plainview denied the redemption of a Rosebud.
So, even the most cine-blind of you will know about Day-Lewis and how he dazzles in the dark – at first both feral and fearful, then an incendiary entrepreneur reforged in a flame-scorched oil-gush. The other, equally impressive, character is Jonny Greenwood’s score: stewing and shimmering, lurching between clattering percussion, insectoid drone, swiping cellos, Beethoven-like ignitions of fire and frolic. As he does with Radiohead, Greenwood conjures epiphany from emotional meltdown. Who else was Anderson gonna call? Danny Elfman?
As for Anderson... In technical terms, he’s reworking rules, rewriting language. Mirroring his subject, he speculates, discovers, pioneers, carves fresh meat from cinema’s well-gnawed bones… Are there any other filmmakers pushing the medium so hard with only their fifth feature?
Three extras might seem miserly, but the Story Of Petroleum documentary would work as a stand-alone piece on its own merits – a speckled period-silent rendered malevolent by Greenwood’s sound and fury. In the deleted scenes – all unnecessary exposition – Anderson reveals how keenly he’s crafted the film’s sweltering mystique. And the final line (“I’m finished!”)? Is that Day-Lewis channelling PTA? Does the director actually identify with Plainview’s desire to make his money and his mark and then recede into splendid isolation? If There Will Be Blood does turn out to be Anderson’s last word, it’s one hell of a black swansong.