Daniel Day-Lewis' role as Daniel Plainview, a determined, misanthropic silver miner who strikes oil, won him critical acclaim and an Academy Award for best actor. I wasn't really as taken as everybody else was by his turn as Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York, but Day-Lewis' performance, incorporating the voice and mannerisms of the legendary John Huston, is absolutely masterful. Plainview is a riveting character, a man whose ambition would be his defining characteristic if it wasn't spite. Plainview hates all people, and he is keenly aware that this criteria includes himself. His only family ties depicted in the film are illusory at best, his son H.W. (played for most of the film by the outstanding Dillon Freasier) is actually the child of a miner killed in an accident, and Henry (Kevin J. O'Conner), a half-brother he had never met before.
The film bears some resemblance to Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller in its depiction of a town growing up around the protagonist, and many critics have commented on the film's superficial similarities to Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, but I found the deliberate pacing and obsessive tone evoked more the work of Stanley Kubrick. The central conflict of the film is between Plainview and Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), a local preacher who is just as ambitious in his own way as Plainview is in his. This animosity is brilliantly played, usually accomplished with great subtlety, with occasional outbursts of pent-up emotion. To both men, people are tools to be used to further their goals and humanity is the means to buy those tools, but while Sunday has the veneer of righteousness to fall back on, Plainview has the greater determination.
The pace of There Will Be Blood is purposefully infuriating until the viewer finally gets themselves in synch with the film; the first line of dialogue isn't spoken until fourteen minutes in. I have to admit that while I'm not sure that Johnny Greenwood's deliberately queasy music always works in the movie, it was refreshing to hear somebody really experimenting with the score, and it does fit Plainview's ruthless personality. Likewise, Robert Elswit's Panavision cinematography (which also won an Oscar) allows the physical landscape to reflect the bleakness of the central character.
Anderson's oeuvre can never be accused of being anything but eccentric, and this film is certainly that. But it is a deep and disturbing character study, and Day-Lewis' performance is so spectacular that he as impossible to like as it is to take your eyes off him... and, even more uncomfortably, difficult not to recognize aspects of oneself in.
Yoinked from revolos55:
What's nice about never having caught up with Bill Conti's work until now is that most of it hasn't been available until now. I'm in the right place and the right time, as the re-negotiation of re-use fees and the utility of the internet to get scores directly out to collectors, Varèse Sarabande has been able to build up quite an impressive discography for the composer.
I recieved my Soundtrack Club order a bit early and am absolutely ecstatic over Bill Conti's music for North and South. I remembered this score from watching the series when it first aired in 1985. Many years later, I caught up to the symphonic suite Conti had recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra, and was surprised to find that the main title had made such an impression that I could hum almost the whole thing along, and I vividly remembered the moving "Final Meeting" scene (titled "Friends Farewell" on the new set). And the score lives up to the promise of that suite as well, it's rich and emotionally engaging. This is certainly a case where the having is better than the wanting.
At the risk of sounding in any way dissatisfied with this release - or worse, spoiled rotten - I wonder whether Varèse might also prepare a release of the music for North and South, Book II, the follow-up based on John Jakes' sequel novel Love and War; while the first mini-series introduced the characters and their backstories, the second thrust them all into the heart of the American Civil War. Conti returned for this project and I seem to remember some pretty epic music - my mother has the series on DVD, so I can always revisit, but I'm worried that I might find myself hooked on even more music that may not have the chance to see the light of day. Apparently a third mini-series, based on Heaven and Hell, involving Reconstruction that was produced in 1994 with music by David Bell, but I know nothing about that beyond that fans of the first two series don't seem to like it much.