"I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people.
I've built up my hatreds over the years, little by little." Meet Daniel Plainview. It's fair to say he's not exactly a people person. He is, in fact, a bit of a bastard, and that's putting it mildly. Plainview is the latest terrifying creation of actor extraordinaire Daniel Day-Lewis: an intensely complex individual, he's your guide through the next two and a half hours and three decades of American history. With Paul Thomas Anderson in the director's chair to rein in the wilder excesses of Day-Lewis' grandstanding performance, There Will Be Blood's status as a modern masterpiece was never really in doubt, but be warned: it's far from an easy watch.
Ask him, and Plainview will tell you he's an oil man. It's not only a description of his job, but his very being - cut him and he bleeds black gold. Working his way up from a simple prospector to a large-scale oil driller, he's in the business of bleeding Mother Earth dry and selling the profits to the highest bidder. When he receives a tip-off from jittery Paul Sunday (Dano) about a stretch of land that's ripe with oil, Plainview readies his team to plunder down under but faces opposition from the town's preacher (and Paul's twin brother) Eli Sunday. The two continue their feud and clash throughout the years, each relishing the opportunity to exact revenge on the other whenever possible. That title is definitely no empty promise.
Anderson might be behind the camera, but Day-Lewis is the one calling the shots here. His Plainview is the most magnetic of monsters: a distant cousin of Bill the Butcher (the two share the same passion for power), he's fiercely ambitious, driven and totally fearless. On the surface, he's a family man with a young son, H.W. (Freasier, a Day-Lewis Mini Me), a prim and proper accent (channelled from John Huston) and a non-threatening moustache (borrowed from Borat
). But drill a little deeper and you'll tap into a bubbling well of ferocious energy; untamed anger which frequently gushes to the surface in a spectacular yet frightening fashion. With a lack of scenery to chomp on, Day-Lewis actually starts chewing on his own bottom lip; just one tic that points to his character's immense inner turmoil. He captures every inch of Plainview's rotten soul - the single-minded determination, the eventual self-destruction and his descent into madness - yet still makes him human, dare we say, even likeable. It's a ten-tonne powerhouse of a performance and it'll blow you away.
Dano meanwhile makes for an excellent foil, his hysterical preacher representing the force of religion in direct opposition to Plainview's capitalist figurehead. Sunday sees Plainview as the devil himself - it's not hard to see why when his oil well spits Hell-fire into God's own night sky in the movie's most rapturous set-piece. As Plainview's moral compass points decidedly south, Dano plays his preacher as man content to have God on his side, with all eternity to save his wretched soul.
Anderson does a fine job in tying together both men's fates and sets their story against a fascinating backdrop of America in its infancy. His direction is solid - no frills are needed - and he's content to let Plainview's tale take centre stage, hanging the movie on Day-Lewis' robust shoulders. The pacing does feel a little off, perhaps a bit saggy around the mid-section, and you do get the feeling that, at 160 minutes, it's going to be the cause of some seriously sore arses. However, it's a mesmerising couple of hours if you're tuned into the correct frequency and it's tied up with a great (if ever-so-slightly OTT) ending that sees Plainview taking notes from the Mr. Burns book of super-villainy. Day-Lewis' final two words ("I'm finished!") signal the end of an acting masterclass that'll leave you exhausted physically and mentally.
There Will Be Blood is a slow, ponderous affair, a movie that's in no rush to reach a satisfying conclusion or hit any number of expected plot points along the way. It's a lumbering beast; meandering and occasionally maddening. It takes its sweet time and chews on its words - this is simply Anderson's way of making sure you soak in every second and savour every beat. As a character study, There Will Be Blood is unsurpassed. Just don't expect to strike oil straight away.