Daniel Plainview: “I AM THE THIRD REVELATION!”
I’ve never quite settled on a Best of the 1990s list, but one thing’s for sure: beside the life-changing 1994 one-two punch that was “Pulp Fiction” and “Forrest Gump”, the absolute masterpiece of that decade, to me, was Paul Thomas Anderson‘s “Magnolia”. Far from burning out or fading away, PTA has again secured a place amongst the greatest films of the subsequent decade with “There Will Be Blood”… And if it wasn’t for my self-imposed rule against multiple slots allotted to the same director, he might have placed a second time with “Punch-Drunk Love”, that’s how much I love his cinema (not for nothing does Anderson sit at the top of my Contemporary Filmmakers Pantheon)
Going back to “There Will Be Blood”, the mastery at work in this picture is downright unavoidable. From the first few shots helmed by cinematographer Robert Elswit, the first strains of Jonny Greenwood‘s score, we’re sucked into the world of Daniel Plainview. Even before he utters a single word, we’re riveted by his presence, his resilience, his focus… Here’s a man who’ll stop at nothing to get what he wants, who’ll dig as deep as necessary to find what he’s looking for, who’ll drag his ass across the desert before he admits defeat.
“I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people. There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking. I’ve built up my hatreds over the years little by little. I see the worst in people. I don’t need to look past seeing them to get all I need. I want to earn enough money that I can get away from everyone. I can’t keep doing this on my own, with these… people.”
We understand all that just through his body language, and in the way the film frames him with images and sound. Anderson displays an utter confidence in the medium (and the audience), never telling us something he can show us. This is cinema, goddammit! But it’s also one of the most powerful stories ever told, encompassing history, legend and myth, not to mention elements of the Western, black comedy and tragedy.
In many ways, this new millennium has been all about CGI, 3D and special effects, for better or worse. So it’s amazing to find a movie like this, so deeply rooted into earth, oil, dust, fire, rock, wood, steel, sweat… And yes, blood. I might be wrong, but from what I can tell, everything on screen is as real as it gets, and we can feel it.
Finally, of course, I have to mention Daniel Day-Lewis‘s incendiary work as Daniel Plainview, probably the very best performance of this whole decade (the D’Angelistas agree, in any case). Both as a snake charmer and as a charming snake, as an embodiment of savage capitalism and as a profoundly flawed yet still human figure, whose misanthropy is cut down by bursts of sincere affection for his (fake) son and (fake) brother, this is a one most unforgettable, iconic character.
I often refer to Howard Hawk’s classic definition of a good movie: “Three great scenes, no bad ones.” Well, not only are there no bad scenes in “There Will Be Blood”, there are also something like 20 or 25 great ones! It builds and builds and builds until the very end, and what an ending it is!