In life, a little comfort can go a long way, which is why very few people really ever stray from their comfort zones. Quite often, filmmakers find a comfortable niche for themselves and make different versions of the same films over and over again, or actors keep rehashing an acclaimed performance ad nauseum. Nominated for eight Academy Awards, the latest film by writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood, is simultaneously a film made both in and outside of his comfort zone.
Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) begins a career as a silver prospector in Texas, but converts his exploits into a burgeoning oil drilling company. Soon, thanks to his own wiles and the help of a cute orphan boy he raises as his son, Plainview becomes a powerful oilman. Not content with what he has, Plainview sets his sights on the oil beneath the town of Little Boston, California and locks horns with the young preacher (Paul Dano) residing there.
Traditionally, Anderson's films involve a large cast of characters, staffed by a regular stable of actors. None of the regulars from previous Anderson features appear in There Will Be Blood. In fact, the only major cast or crew returning besides Anderson is cinematographer Robert Elswit, bringing along with him the long-take shots that have become another Anderson trademark. Otherwise, from a technical standpoint, There Will Be Blood is a departure from previous fare due to Anderson employing a completely new crew.
On the other hand, There Will Be Blood is, at its core, a character study much like other Anderson films. The focal point of the film is Daniel Plainview and Daniel Day-Lewis is depicted in the vast majority of the film's scenes. Day-Lewis' performance, only his third in the past decade, is impeccable, contrasting quiet moments with explosive tirades. Paul Dano's Eli Sunday is the only other prominent character in the film, but his scenes serve more to define Plainview's character rather than his own. Other characters come and go, but from the first scene of Plainview digging silver to the shocking last frames, There Will Be Blood is a showcase for Day-Lewis. Some viewers may, however, find his portrayal of Plainview to be eerily similar to that of Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York.
Much like Boogie Nights served as an examination of 1970s porn, There Will Be Blood chronicles the early days of the oil industry. Upton Sinclair's novel Oil! served as the basis for much of the film and the depiction of oilmen and their rush to claim all for themselves very much keeps with the events of the time. The pros and cons of the industry at the time are also well-presented, the financial gains available balanced against the potential for loss of life.
Clocking in at 158 minutes, There Will Be Blood is longer than the average Hollywood film but is much more effective at holding the audience's attention than the typical blockbuster. Despite not having a clear-cut hero or villain, filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson has crafted a taut, engaging film filled with gripping scenes and intricate dialogue. Almost paradoxical in nature--more ambitious than previous films, but also more restrained--There Will Be Blood is Anderson's finest work to date and undoubtedly due for Oscar gold.