by Allan Fish
(USA 2007 158m) DVD1/2
I drink your milkshake
p Daniel Lupi, Joanne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson d/w Paul Thomas Anderson novel “Oil!” by Upton Sinclair ph Robert Elswit ed Dylan Tichenor m Jonny Greenwood art Jack Fisk
Daniel Day-Lewis (Daniel Plainview), Paul Dano (Paul Sunday/Eli Sunday), Kevin J.O’Connor (Henry Brands), Ciaran Hinds (Fletcher Hamilton), Russell Harvard (H.W.Plainview), Barry del Sherman (H.B.Ailman), Paul F.Tompkins (Prescott), Sydney McAllister (Mary Sunday),
Following No Country for Old Men and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford came a third masterpiece of 2007 to be set in the west. All three depict very different worlds, and all three are resoundingly successful in recreating them. All three have, in different ways, contentious endings, and though the ending of There Will be Blood may not be quite as out there as the Coens’ film, it comes darned close. Andrew Dominik’s film about the legendary outlaw took the documentaries of Ken Burns as inspiration, while the Coens were indebted to John Sayles’ Lone Star and their own earlier works. Anderson borrows left, right and centre, from George Stevens’ Giant (it was shot in much the same location), from John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, from Erich Von Stroheim’s Greed, from the visual palette of Terence Malick (helped by employing Malick’s old designer Jack Fisk) and even the stylistic touches of Stanley Kubrick. Not only that, but he creates a film worthy of comparison to all of them.
After making his fortune in gold and silver at the turn of the century, Daniel Plainview turns his attention to the black gold, trying to set up drills throughout the Midwest and con naïve homesteaders out of their property for peanuts. He travels with his small boy, H.W., and, following the tip off of one Paul Sunday, he turns up at the Sunday property in Little Boston, California, with the intention of getting rich on the oil just waiting to be pumped. While there, he runs into competition from the young fire and brimstone teacher, none other than Paul’s twin brother, Eli. Their confrontation ultimately proves fatal to one of them.
At first glance, Blood may seem a more subdued film for Anderson, with none of the trademark camera flourishes of Boogie Nights and Magnolia. Yet the stylistic subtexts are clear to see, and the influence of Kubrick is most striking. Take the opening prologue set in 1898, which retrospectively seems to evoke the Dawn of Man sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and compare it to the finale, which not only evokes the apes at the watering hole but Alex and his droogs at the casino in A Clockwork Orange, only with a bowling pin the weapon of choice rather than a large bone or cane. (As if to emphasise the parallel, he accompanies the credits with a bit of Brahms.) He’s not afraid to make the film basically a two-header, as no other actor besides Day-Lewis and Dano get a look in and, with Day-Lewis holding centre stage throughout. To say that it is a magnificent performance is not even close. It’s not only his greatest performance but one of the great performances of 21st century cinema. On one level, there are similarities to his previous psychotic, Bill Cutting, in Gangs of New York, but to listen to, though there’s just a hint of Sean Connery in there, he’s essentially a mix of Walter and, especially, John Huston. That in itself is very much deliberate and at one with Anderson’s own vision, evoking memories of not only the aforementioned Madre but even more so John’s performance as the equally evil Noah Cross in Chinatown. Indeed, one could almost imagine Plainview and Cross related. Plainview deals in oil, Cross in water, but both tried to bleed California dry with sheer greed. To Plainview, in his parlance, it’s drinking the other fellow’s milk shake, to Cross it’s bringing Los Angeles to the water or vice versa. One could discuss the parallel till Doomsday, if we’re honest, but that would give us no time to mention the first time score of Radiohead’s Greenwood, whose almost minimalist strings could not be more perfect. There Will be Blood; there will be greatness.