Hands down, Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the most talented actors working in films today. He resists the temptation to turn out movie after movie, often taking three, four even five years between big screen performances. However, each time he graces the screen whether he’s playing a man with cerebral palsy in My Left Foot (1989), a man wrongly accused of being an IRA terrorist in In the Name of the Father (1993) or a fighter looking to leave the past behind in The Boxer, Day-Lewis always seems to give a mesmerizing performance that makes a film worth watching.
Day-Lewis’ Academy Award winning performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is no exception. Loosely based on Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel, Oil! There Will Be Blood is an epic tale about one man’s rise to power and his obsession to maintain it, in turn-of the-century California. Almost every shot, every scene is an example of great acting writing and cinematography. At a long 158 minutes running time, one would expect the film to drag in places, but Day-Lewis and director Anderson seemed determined to keep the intensity of the story on full throttle throughout the film.
As the film begins, Day-Lewis is Daniel Plainview, a young silver miner in 1898 California. He makes the switch to oil when he taps into large oil reserves beneath California’s still undeveloped frontier. Some ten years later, Plainview and his adopted son H.W. (Dillon Freasier), are buying up as much oil rich land as possible, to expand the Plainview oil empire.
One day, a young man named Paul Sunday (Paul Dano) comes to visit the Plainview’s. In exchange for $500.00, Sunday tells Daniel about the vast untapped oil reserves just below the surface in his hometown of Little Boston, California. Further, he says that the oil can be found right under the Sunday family ranch and that folks from Standard Oil have already been sniffing around. Though skeptical at first, Daniel wastes little time getting to Little Boston and beginning the task of prospecting for oil and getting the town to buy into his philosophy.
Eli Sunday (Paul Dano in a dual role) is supposedly Paul’s twin, but since we never see them in the same seen together, it’s possible that there is only one of them. Anyway, Eli is an evangelical preacher whose only goal is to get money from Daniel Plainview to build his church, the Church of the Third Revelation. Eli and Daniel’s arrangement works for both men until Plainview reneges on his promise to let Eli bless the first well–a lifelong hatred between the two men is quickly formed. As Plainview continues to build his empire in Little Boston, viewers are given a close up look at the cruelties of the oil business at the start of the 20th century–men are killed and Plainview’s son is left deaf after a well explodes. After H.W. loses his hearing, it becomes clear that Daniel lacks the capacity to truly care for anyone. He becomes very cold to his son and it is obvious that Daniel has no use for H.W. now that he can no longer play the precocious son who can get them through corporate doors.
The second half of There Will Be Blood deals with the power and personality struggle between Daniel and Eli Sunday. When Plainview’s alleged half-brother Henry (Kevin J. O’Connor) shows up, Plainview actually begins to show some human emotion and open up his heart a little bit. It seems odd that a man as protective as Plainview would take a man like Henry simply at his word that they were brothers seems odd, but it’s at that point that it is clear that Daniel Plainview has simply gone mad.
Paul Dano, who barely said a word as the Nietzsche-emulating teen in Little Miss Sunshine, hardly ever stops talking as Eli Sunday and is a worthy opponent for Day-Lewis’ fiery portrayal of Daniel Plainview. The two are able to go head to head in a fierce battle of wills, which makes There Will Be Blood a powerful story about the price of greed and power.
Paramount has reproduced the film on Blu-ray in a VC-1/1080p transfer. There are no jagged edges and the colors are clean and vibrant.
A Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless codec leaves the soundtrack sounding just as good or better than it would in a theater.
These extras are carried over from the two-disc standard DVD edition but are now in HD: “15 Minutes” is a slide show of photos of late 1800s/early 1900s figures — oil prospectors, silver miners, frontier homesteaders, corporate tycoons — along with maps of the California oil fields tapped in this period. These stills are intercut with soundless clips from the film, which sublimely demonstrate the pains taken by cinematographer Robert Elswit and production designer Jack Fisk to reproduce the people, places, and life conditions during the oil boom.
“Fishing” and “Haircut/Interrupted Hymn” contain deleted scenes from the film. “Dailies Gone Wild” is an extended take of the restaurant dinner scene between Daniel, H.W., and the Standard Oil men at the next table. The clip really gives you a sense of how Daniel Day-Lewis approaches his craft. You can see him working on the character; fleshing Daniel Plainview out to the man we would see in the final cut.
“The Story of Petroleum” is a silent documentary produced circa 1923. It tells the story of the California oil boom. Full of vintage photos from the late 1800s onward, ornate title cards, and animated how-to maps for drilling down to crude deposits, “The Story of Petroleum” provides an interesting, though dated, history lesson.