"I have a competition in me. I do not wish to see anyone else succeed," confides Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) in a moment of rare candor. "I hate most people." This is Plainview's secret, which emerges slowly from his veneer of confident sophistication until it becomes a misanthropic force too large for any man to harness.
Plainview's greed and loathing is at the heart of There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson's new film of astounding depth, intensity, and brutality. Based loosely on Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel Oil!, There Will Be Blood finds Anderson with a refined vision and cinematic maturity that not even his best films could have prepared us for.
The story begins in 1898, with 15 dialogue-free minutes of Plainview drilling for oil with little more than a pickaxe and bucket. His crude operation grows, and after one of his workers is killed on the job, Plainview raises the man's infant as his own, grooming him as an heir.
The father and son team take no prisoners in their pursuit of fortune, but are unprepared for the brimstone resistance of Eli (Paul Dano), a deeply Pentecostal young man whose plaintive skin enshrouds a fiery, conflicted soul. Their conflict of power and piousness—or more accurately, their shared perceptions of the other as manipulative conmen—unleashes Plainview's wellspring of hatred, which commands his life until the end.
There Will Be Blood is unrivaled in its scenes of wrenching intensity, bottomless anger, and stark physicality, and Day-Lewis demonstrates once again why he's one of the most respected actors (sporadically) working today. Although the dueling themes of oil, money, and evangelism lend themselves to ham-fisted allegories about our presidential administration, Anderson avoids this obvious route, instead creating something more timeless and literary. And by steering clear of narrative gimmickry or stylistic flashiness, Anderson has crafted one of the most compelling tales of emotional complexity in years. The film's title warns us of bloodshed, but little can prepare us for all that entails: the blood of violent aggression, of family lines, of a sacrificial prophet, and of the earth, which here bleeds oil like a biblical lamb.