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DVD SAVANT

There Will Be Blood
Savant Blu-ray Review


There Will Be Blood
Paramount
2007 / Color / 2.35:1 / 158 min. / Street Date June 3, 2008 / 39.99
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Kevin J. O'Connor, Dillon Freasier, Ciarán Hinds, Sydney McCallister
Cinematography Robert Elswit
Production Design Jack Fisk
Art Direction David Crank
Film Editor Dylan Tichenor
Original Music Johnny Greenwood
Written by Paul Thomas Anderson from a novel by Upton Sinclair
Produced by Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Lupi, JoAnne Sellar
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

The Blu-ray disc of There Will Be Blood presents last year's Academy Award winner for Best Cinematography in a pristine presentation: the earlier DVD release (Reviewed here) looked great, but Robert Elswit's visuals are obviously going to be even more attractive in Hi-Def.

This keen adaptation of part of the novel Oil! by the famous socialist Upton Sinclair is a complete departure from Anderson's previous pictures, and current film trends in general. The year's other period pictures Atonement and Lust, Caution are lush romance thrillers upholstered with pretty pictures. There Will Be Blood's sparse narrative allows Lewis' social comment to become self-evident without long speeches, preferring to hone in on the remarkable character of a man who symbolizes the energy and initiative of the 20th century. Audiences were knocked out by Daniel Day-Lewis's performance, even if they weren't ready for a film without romance or car chases, where close attention must be paid to understand what's happening. The movie is important because 'what's happening' is the building of our modern industrial world, from the dirt up.

Synopsis:

Lone wolf miner Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) must drag his broken leg to the assay office to confirm that he's found oil-bearing rocks in his silver mine. When his first wells come in, Daniel hires Fletcher Hamilton (Ciarán Hinds) as his trusted associate and is soon a successful Signal Hill oil wildcatter. He raises a baby orphaned by another miner and uses him as part of his sales pitch to obtain oil leases for less money than they're worth: "We're a family company" he says with a careful smile. A paid tip sends Daniel and his young son H.W. (Dillon Freasier) to Little Boston, a dirt-poor farm area in a dry corner of the San Joaquin Valley. Finding oil practically bubbling out of the ground, he makes a deal with young Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), a self-styled preacher who wants to form his own church. Daniel scoops up leases from the surrounding landowners and moves in his heavy equipment and work crews, taking pains to avoid offending the fundamentalist Christian community. But he can't help crossing horns with Eli, who insists on pushing himself into Daniel's business. The first well comes in with an explosion that deafens young H.W., putting an end to Daniel's only heartfelt relationship. A lost half-brother Henry Brands (Kevin J. O'Connor, Peggy Sue Got Married, Love at Large) shows up looking for a job, and Daniel cautiously accepts him. Then the Standard Oil Company tries to 'help' Daniel by buying him out. Fiercely independent and (by this time) a confirmed hater of humanity, Daniel determines to build his own pipeline to the ocean. But to do that he'll need to make his peace with the upstart Eli, who now wants Daniel to acknowledge his superior power as a faith healer.

Much of the spirit that made Upton Sinclair's book an exposé of rampant capitalism is present in There Will Be Blood, even if director Anderson doesn't take it as his central theme: the book is to real-life oil baron Edward L. Doheny what Citizen Kane is to William Randolph Hearst. Daniel Plainview has many admirable qualities, all of which are subordinated to his drive to succeed. He may look like a bum prospector, but he has the education of an engineer and a geologist. He knows how to find oil and personally invents techniques and equipment to get it out of the ground. Most importantly, Daniel Plainview is self-contained and goal oriented. Everything in his life, including the adoption of a son, is directed to compete and win. He's the original man with The Tools, Talent & Motivation.

Plainview adapts himself to his needs. I'm not sure we hear twenty words of dialogue in the first couple of reels, but by the time Daniel is addressing community groups, hoping to woo them into signing over oil leases, he's a seasoned public speaker. He hugs his son to promote a wholesome image for customers naturally suspicious of businessmen and lawyers. It's hucksterism of the first order, and despite his friendly smiles and courtesy, Daniel has little use for humanity in general. In Little Boston he comes up against an obstacle in the form of the predatory Bible thumper Eli Sunday. Daniel recognizes a racket when he sees one and harbors a secret hate for this pretender with his hysterical church performances. After H.W.'s accident Daniel becomes an unforgiving misanthrope. He thought he could trust children but even H.W. 'betrays' him, if only by accident. You can't count on people, and if you let them, they'll screw you every time. The essentially harmless Henry Brands learns this lesson the hard way.

There Will Be Blood veers away from the story of Edward Doheny when Daniel turns to drink and displays of violent eccentricity. Doheny became a social lion and political player, and eventually met trouble in the Teapot Dome scandal, if only by association. Daniel bucks the big companies that make a business out of 'consolidating' the holdings of bona-fide pioneers like Plainview. If Paul Thomas Anderson wanted to make an ordinary crowd-pleaser, he might have had Plainview fight back against the Big Bad Capitalist oil cartel, perhaps hiring gunmen to protect his rights. This did happen occasionally. Or the director-writer could opt for ironic tragedy, and make Plainview more like Warren Beatty's McCabe in McCabe & Mrs. Miller, an idealist martyred by a faceless syndicate. 1

Anderson instead chooses to develop Plainview's character to the end. Like Charles Foster Kane, Daniel gets everything he's after. He ends up a veritable hermit in a Pasadena mansion. As the man who owns the entire Monopoly board, Daniel's the big winner in a vacuum of wealth. He has nothing left to prove, yet he's still interested in crushing old foes, just for the joy of it: a man needs his hobbies. The brutal ending takes place in a private bowling alley, a galaxy away from Daniel's beginning slaving away at the bottom of a silver shaft.  2

There Will Be Blood is the role of a lifetime for Daniel Day-Lewis, an actor who seems to change completely for each role. For the voice of Daniel Plainview he channels aspects of John Huston's deep drawl. Robert Elswit's glowing cinematography doesn't need to design shots to make Plainview the center of attention; Day-Lewis commands that at all times. We see the façade and the man thinking behind the façade, but Plainview is also no mystery. He's quite simple and direct in everything he does, and explains out loud to Henry Brands exactly why he doesn't like people. Most stories about power and greed exist to levy moral judgments. Day-Lewis's Plainview is as true as can be to his convictions. He personifies the man who simply must get to the top of the heap, no matter what.

Anderson makes the long movie go by in a flash, as we realize that this 1905 California is less familiar to us than the prehistoric animals in the La Brea Tar Pits. We need to pay close attention to follow Daniel's early progress, and since nobody explains the workings of an oil derrick, the film's reconstructions of mining are fascinating. The effects of the drilling aren't explained either. Little do the farmers realize that when the oil's gone, their land will be stained with oil slag and the underground water table will as likely as not poisoned. Plainview promises to bring in milk, bread, schools and social benefits, but once he has the oil, he'll be gone.

But Anderson's key concern is not social commentary; he's much more interested in the fight for men's souls. Daniel holds Eli Sunday's hypocritical faith healing racket in contempt, but he has nothing to replace it with; his own game deals in a similar swindle of 'the people'. He's a realist who believes in oil, dreams of success and little else. When Daniel gets what he's after he has nowhere to go, and totters around his mansion in utter isolation like Charles Foster Kane. After his unbalanced movies about the Porn industry and L.A. madness, Anderson has made a powerful meditation on human ambition.


Paramount's Blu-ray of There Will Be Blood looks stunning most of the time, especially in the outdoor scenes. The many dark interiors don't seem quite so sharp, although the occasional facial close-up practically leaps out at us. The formalistic framings and restrained pace invite us to examine most scenes in close detail.

The extras are the same brief but memorable collection from the Special Edition DVD. No commentary and no making-of featurettes are in included, which at least spares us the usual sit-downs with actors and filmmakers telling us how excited they are to be making great art. A fifteen-minute slide show compares Anderson's historical research materials to scenes in his movie -- buildings, wardrobe, haircuts, men's faces. Many of the original photos have captions from old books or museum displays. Two trailers follow, and then a pair of extended deleted sequences. "Fishing" is at least half a reel long. It breaks with the rest of the film by verbally explaining a specific drilling problem. The drill bit snaps off hundreds of feet below, so the men must use specialized gear to try and snag the remainder and haul it out. Daniel has an excellent exchange with Eli's father Abel, that spells out Abel's religious mania and Daniel's low opinion of the Sunday family -- he says that Eli is insane. "Haircut / Interrupted Hymn" shows H.W. preening his father to greet the parishioners who have come to bless the start of drilling. It helps emphasize Daniel's emotional investment in H.W..

The end of the extras package gives us an uncut performance take called 'Dailies Gone Wild'. Daniel Day-Lewis becomes ornery at the restaurant, until some flub stops the take. He and Dillon Freasier react --- but remain completely in character.

A special extra is an entire industrial film from 1923, an excellent silent called The Story of Petroleum. It explains the workings and engineering behind many of the authentic-looking procedures shown in the movie. A new music accompaniment is by composer Jonny Greenwood, whose eccentric score for the feature garnered a lot of attention in the press.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, There Will Be Blood rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Trailers, deleted sequences, 15-min research 'slide show', daily take of Day-Lewis' performance, 1923 silent industrial-educational film The Story of Petroleum.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 13, 2008

Footnotes:

1. I guess that a 'commercial' version of the story would best describe Stanley Kramer's Oklahoma Crude from 1973. There Will Be Blood leans more in the direction of Terrence Malick's mostly non-verbal Days of Heaven, focusing less on lyrical beauty and more on character.
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2. In 1927 Doheny built Greystone Mansion, a palace with gardens and coach house just off Sunset Blvd. where West Hollywood meets Beverly Hills. It's been in dozens of movies, with its gate and drive featured strongly in The Invisible Boy and The Day Mars Invaded Earth and the gardens covered in The Legend of Lylah Clare and The Loved One. The American Film Institute was located there for several years in the late 1970s; I remember visiting several times. Author James Ursini would conduct Oral Histories at Greystone, and used to eat his lunch down below, in the mansion's underground bowling alley. He told me he felt a chill when the final scene of There Will Be Blood came up on the screen. The history that lasts is the history made by rich men.
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

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DVD SAVANT





19 / B&W / 1:78 anamorphic widescreen / min. / Street Date , 2008 /
Starring
Cinematography
Production Design
Art Direction
Film Editor
Original Music
Written by
Produced by
Directed by

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Synopsis:



On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, rates:
Movie:
Video:
Sound:
Supplements:
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: , 2008

Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.

Footnotes:

 1 1. footnote
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 2 2. footnote
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 3 3. footnote
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 4 4. footnote
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 5 5. footnote
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 6 6. footnote
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

Go BACK to the Savant Main Page.
Reviews on the Savant main site have additional credits information and are more likely to be updated and annotated with reader input and graphics.

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