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“There Will Be Blood” paints the rise of American capitalism

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and released back in December 2007, the period thriller “There Will be Blood” is often regarded as one of the greatest films of the 21st century. Loosely based on the 1926 novel “Oil!” by Upton Sinclair, the film serves as a completely unique experience to other contemporary releases, as well as a showcase to acting powerhouses such as Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano. 

A period piece set between 1898 and 1927, this film follows the rise of oil tycoon Daniel Plainview, played by Day-Lewis. Using the people around him, including his adopted son H.W., Plainview creates a likable front image in order to buy up land in Southern California to mine for oil. In his selfish journey to become a powerful oil baron, Plainview’s slow descent into madness becomes more apparent. Alongside the journey of Plainview’s descent into corruption, he meets Eli Sunday, played by Dano. In a few ways, Eli acts as a perfect foil in the eyes of Daniel Plainview, someone who exists to get in his way and drive influence away from his oil tycoon. 

The absolutely brilliant performance by Day-Lewis casts him perfectly as an eerie, egotistical and deeply cynical businessman so passionate about growing his business that he will perform or sacrifice anything and anyone to get his way. The journey that Plainview takes is met with the brazen sacrifice of many people in his personal life, which in his eyes ultimately serves as a stepping stone to achieve impossible wealth. 

What makes Day-Lewis’s portrayal of Plainview so enthralling is the ability to show glimpses of humanity in the aftermath of such heinous actions, showcasing a man who has achieved many things but has too far crossed the line. The name of the film, “There Will Be Blood,” implies blood being spilled for a capitalist empire to grow. 

Dano’s performance as Eli Sunday is almost on par with that of Day-Lewis, portraying a young, deeply religious preacher who asks Plainview for money to build a church on the same land as his oil drill. Plainview’s implied hatred of religion is seen prominently throughout the film, and his back and forth between Eli and himself eventually boils over into an incredibly climactic and intense final scene in which Plainview beats Eli over the head with a wooden bowling pin, a scene in which serves allegorically as a bridging point, where prominent American influence ultimately transitions from more religious institutions to that of capitalist institutions. 

The film is also elevated heavily with some gorgeous cinematography by longtime Anderson collaborator Robert Elswit, that showcases the early 20th century southern Californian landscapes flawlessly. When an oil rig malfunctions in the film’s first half, the camerawork showcases some breathtaking shots of the oil rig on fire, painting a dark, orange reflection onto Plainview that makes the oil on his face appear like blood. The cinematography is mixed with an excellent score by Johnny Greenwood that paints the film with an eerie and sinister edge.

“There Will Be Blood” is often considered to be Paul Thomas Anderson’s magnum opus. It excels in presenting amazing performances, cinematography and music that visualizes early 20th America’s transition into a capitalist society like no other film of its kind.

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