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There Will Be Blood

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The solitude of greed seeps through the imagery of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Academy Award Winning, There Will Be Blood. The enigmatic, yet single minded anti-hero Daniel Plainview, created from the bowels of Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil, Anderson’s loose adaptation and Daniel Day Lewis’s Oscar winning performance, is an imaginative force to be reckoned with. Lewis emerges on screen in There Will Be Blood, as the strong silent sort he gave in Last of the Mohicans, but ravages through a character that makes his Bill the Butcher from Gangs of New York seem cartoonish at best. Lewis’s Plainview is strikingly, the hammer that drives the wedge of greed through Upton Sinclair’s seething message, channeled brilliantly by Anderson’s screenplay.

The imagery itself is owed to the visionary cinematographer, Robert Elswit, who also brought Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights and Magnolia to life. Elswit has a knack for capturing the darker corners of humanity, such as his work with George Clooney in Syriana, Good Night and Good Luck, and Michael Clayton. With strings dripping over Elswit’s cinematography, Johnny Greenwood’s soundtrack is like the thick oil that infests and fuels Daniel Plainview’s obsessive quest. Greenwood is better known as the guitarist for the band Radiohead, but it seems the well of his genius has been drilled and gushes through in There Will Be Blood.

All this creative force is structured like a sturdy Oil well; build by Jack Fisk’s production design and Dylan Tichenor’s editing. Fisk is well known for his collaborations with writer/director David Lynch, and Tichenor has spliced together both Boogie Nights and Magnolia, for Paul Thomas Anderson, as well as acclaimed for his editing on films like, The Royal Tenenbaums and Brokeback Mountain. All the while a subtly powerful cast simmers below There Will Be Blood’s surface, like a lake of oil waiting to blow through this pump jack of a film. Beyond Daniel Day Lewis, a spout of this oil blasts through in moments courtesy of Paul Dano’s twisted preacher, Eli Sunday.

A defining moment in There Will Be Blood exemplifies all this creative force as it blows to the surface in performance, writing, sound and imagery. Daniel Plainview’s latest well hammers and sucks a blast of magnificent black gold that spouts towards the sky. Yet the blow sends Plainview’s son (Dillon Freasier) soaring to a head injury, which causes deafness (a moment of genius sound editing), and the oil ignites into a geyser of flames. All at once these scenes rupture the hypnotic pace created in the film thus far. Lewis’s performance as he is torn between caring for his son’s injury and tending to his fortunate greed all fired up is heart pounding. It is a masterful moment of screenwriting, where metaphor and action unite, captured unforgettably by Elswit’s camera choreography dancing with Tichenor’s editing, on the stage of Fisk’s design. The entire scene is punctuated as Greenwood’s soundtrack submerges the eerie strings into a pulsating barrage of rhythmic intensity.
This moment in the film lets all the players shine and brings There Will Be Blood’s conceptual basis to totality. It defines Daniel Plainview’s journey into greed in a matter of moments and engulfs the essence of his character, as if tarred by oil, on screen. An all too fitting shot sets Plainview center screen, drenched in oil, as he watches his well gush in flames. His back is turned to the camera, as his back is turned to his son, and his only vision, that of greed, towers in the background. This shot seals perhaps the most riveting chapter of There Will Be Blood’s complete masterpiece, where every action and moment creates a character that lives up to the literary demands an Upton Sinclair novel demands.

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