There Will Be Blood, a taut, exhausting, and altogether fascinating Western from Paul Thomas Anderson, begins with prospector Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) slamming a pick ax against the hard rock wall of a deep ditch as Jonny Greenwood’s piercing score echoes across the screen. From the very beginning, the film creates a sense of menace hovering over the story, unseen but felt with the certainty of death. Drenched in dirt, Daniel wields his tool with harrowing purpose, shooting sparks toward the ground (a brilliant foreshadowing to the fiery visuals to come).
Anderson’s haunting opening eclipses dialogue, showing Plainview as a grueling work horse full of ambition and presence, speechless at the wrenching progress of his business ventures, especially as he becomes immersed in the oil drilling industry. This momentum leads Daniel and his son H.W. to explore and expand their drilling company, propelling them to Little Boston, CA and an “ocean of oil” underneath the hard dirt surface. Here, Daniel finds an adversary in local preacher Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), a boy prophet bent on using the oil boom to further his own religious cause. This conflict turns to betrayal, which evolves into blood, holding true to the promise of the film’s title. Anchored by Robert Elswitt’s riveting steadicam and tracking shots, Anderson masterfully constructs these scenes with a sense of unmatched scope and authenticity, watching the town shift from quiet veranda, where silence overwhelms, to a pressurized industrial hub lined with motion. The vibrancy of a derrick consumed by fire, the coolness of the blue Pacific, and the darkness of oil itself all lead the film toward a sense of heightened instinct, a motif which both defines and engages Day-Lewis’ razor-sharp performance.
As an allegory for capitalist greed and phony evangelical discourse, There Will Be Blood reverberates with rage and guilt, ultimately reveling in obvious symbolism to compliment the brutal clash of both destructive ideologies. Big business and religion become fateful bedfellows, crushing each character with a combination of deception and failed compassion. But Anderson gets so caught up in this sensational dynamic he abuses the strongest theme in There Will Be Blood: the complex relationship between parent and child. Whether it be H.W., Eli, or the Sunday sisters, There Will Be Blood astutely contrasts their plights, but brilliantly ties them together with a sense of hatred for their kin. The most stunning bloodshed in Anderson’s near-masterpiece wallows unseen beneath the surface, with the children who have been abandoned, orphaned, and psychologically left behind.