Mod­ern mas­ter­piece

Daniel Day-Lewis is the key in­gre­di­ent in this sub­lime piece of cin­ema, writes Michael Dwyer

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Reviews -


Di­rected by Paul Thomas An­der­son. Star­ring Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dil­lon Freasier, Kevin J O’Con­nor, Ciaran Hinds 15A cert, gen re­lease, 158 min

THERE isn’t a word of di­a­logue in the ex­tended open­ing se­quence of There Will Be Blood. To in­tro­duce the pro­tag­o­nist, writer-di­rec­tor Paul Thomas An­der­son re­lies en­tirely on the lan­guage of cin­ema – the fa­cially and phys­i­cally ex­pres­sive pres­ence of the star, the pro­duc­tion and cos­tume de­sign, the cam­er­a­work, the use of sound and mu­sic, and the edit­ing, all of which are of the high­est or­der.

And so we get to know Daniel Plain­view (Daniel Day-Lewis) be­fore he ever speaks. At the end of the 19th cen­tury, Plain­view is prospect­ing for sil­ver in the Cal­i­for­nia desert, and we re­alise that he is a driven man of un­stop­pable de­ter­mi­na­tion. Turn­ing his at­ten­tion to oil, he is will­ing to ex­ploit any­one in his path as he ruth­lessly pur­sues power and money.

When a young goat farmer, Paul Sun­day (Paul Dano), tells him that there is oil on Sun­day fam­ily land, Plain­view could eas­ily strike a deal with him. But, be­ing a com­pul­sive cheat, he chooses to swindle the Sun­days.

Adopt­ing the baby of a miner who dies in an ac­ci­dent, Plain­view em­braces the boy, HW, as a sur­ro­gate son, but he uses him to project the im­age of a fam­ily man to the Sun­days, claim­ing that God sent him their way. Plain­view’s god is Mam­mon, and he finds his neme­sis in Paul Sun­day’s brother Eli (also played by Dano), a self-ap­pointed re­li­gious preacher who is just as ma­nip­u­la­tive as Plain­view.

In its twin themes of re­li­gious zealotry and greed for oil, There Will Be Blood, which spans the pe­riod 1898-1927, in­evitably strikes a res­o­nance with the con­flicts of the mod­ern world. While An­der­son and Day-Lewis have de­nied that they in­tended an al­le­gory, the film’s con­tem­po­rary rel­e­vance must have been in their sub­con­scious, at least.

De­vised with a sharp intelligence and di­rected with tremen­dous ac­cu­mu­lat­ing power, this bold, ut­terly as­sured achieve­ment marks just the fifth film from An­der­son. To say that it builds on the rich prom­ise of his ear­lier films (in­clud­ing Boo­gie Nights and Mag­no­lia) would be an un­der­state­ment. This is pure cin­ema.

There are echoes of such clas­sic films as Cit­i­zen Kane, in its pic­ture of a ty­coon’s all-con­sum­ing em­pire-build­ing; and Chi­na­town, in ex­plor­ing the build­ing of Amer­ica and the rot at its foun­da­tions. And at its core is an ex­tra­or­di­nary char­ac­ter study. Day-Lewis plays Daniel Plain­view as a man who is as se­duc­tive and sin­is­ter as the voice he finds for him, and a self-made, hands-on busi­ness­man who ad­mits at one point that he wants no one else to suc­ceed.

It is a per­for­mance of stag­ger­ing com­plex­ity, as Day-Lewis brings this mis­an­thrope vividly to life in all his sly charm, steely de­ter­mi­na­tion and vol­canic fe­roc­ity. This is one of the finest per­for­mances in the his­tory of cin­ema and in the his­tory of act­ing, and Day-Lewis well de­serves all the many awards it has brought him, in­clud­ing an Os­car last Sun­day.

For all Plain­view’s cold­ness as a char­ac­ter, and his ap­par­ent lack of any emo­tion, he is hu­man­ised – to a point – in his re­la­tion­ship with HW (played by Dil­lon Freasier, a won­der­ful 10-year-old new­comer), and when that point is reached, the film be­comes heart­break­ing.

Dano (who was in Lit­tle Miss Sun­shine and The Bal­lad of Jack and Rose, the lat­ter of which also starred Day-Lewis) gives a rev­e­la­tory per­for­mance, in­vest­ing Eli Sun­day with a be­atific yet creepy smile. When he and Plain­view clash, the in­tense, riv­et­ing drama un­folds to a richly imag­i­na­tive, aptly dis­cor­dant score by Ra­dio­head lead gui­tarist Jonny Green­wood.

It is a dis­grace that nei­ther Dano nor Green­wood was recog­nised in the Academy Award nom­i­na­tions, and while There Will Be Blood re­ceived two Os­cars (the other for cin­e­matog­ra­pher Robert El­swit’s mas­terly com­po­si­tions), this fas­ci­nat­ing, strange and orig­i­nal film ought to have re­ceived many more and to have been voted best pic­ture. It is a mod­ern mas­ter­piece.

Black gold: Daniel DayLewis in There Will Be Blood

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