Moving Pictures
May 24, 2024, 06:29AM

Daniel Plainview’s Resurrection

There Will Be Blood is even more astonishing 16 years later.

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Christmas 2007: the major cities got the new Paul Thomas Anderson movie (the "major cities": just New York and Los Angeles). There Will Be Blood was a long time coming, and as a kid who got hooked on Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love in 2004, it felt like forever. Five years between films—how could a director in his 30s do this? But it was worth the wait. I’ll never forget seeing There Will Be Blood just weeks after the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men; this was just before the new year, before Christmas, and Baltimore wouldn’t be getting There Will Be Blood until January 2008. My friend Jack and I walked through Fells Point in a downpour over the newly-opened and since-closed Landmark Harbor East, where we took in No Country for Old Men soggy, cold, and trench footed. It didn’t matter—as I wrote a few months ago, it hasn’t lost any of its power. I remember thinking on that December day that not only was this the best movie of 2007, but one of the best I’d ever seen.

I had high hopes for There Will Be Blood, and it vaulted far past all of them. I didn’t think about No Country for Old Men much after that, and I never saw it a second time in theaters; I went back at least twice for Anderson’s movie, maybe three. I definitely watched it with my family and uncles, aunts, and cousins in Bermuda later in 2008. But in the last decade? No—and when I took a look at Magnolia again after 15 years away, I couldn’t believe how bad it was. An embarrassing script, embarrassing dialogue, but still the singalong and the frogs make it for me.

There Will Be Blood. I saw it with my dad on its first Saturday in Baltimore at the Charles Theatre. What struck him first and to this day is this film’s wordless opening 20 minutes: there isn’t a line of dialogue until Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day Lewis) begins his first proposal to potential partners. He’s an oilman, you know, and of course you know the ending by now, parodied on Saturday Night Live weeks later in 2008 with Bill Hader as Plainview. Milkshakes and straws, so much material for memes in a more innocent time on the internet, before the deluge.

But what I remember was how this was inexplicably a Charles film, and not a Senator film. If this couldn’t book our city’s great art deco movie palace, what could? I understood the first volume of Kill Bill playing in the old shoebox at the Rotunda—an appropriate venue for that film—and it made sense that the second volume played at the Senator. After six years away, Tarantino proved he wasn’t a one-trick pony forever relegated to the 1990s. Perhaps this was the same test Paul Thomas Anderson faced in 2007, on pace with peer Tarantino, just five films into a brilliant career. But he was already the wunderkind auteur admired by nearly every critic in America; it took Tarantino some more box offices successes—Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained—to get the respect that Anderson had from the start.

It wasn’t until Once Upon a Time in Hollywood that I felt he was getting the same treatment as Anderson, the most famous American director who never made a hit. Most of his films have lost money, and while There Will Be Blood made its budget back and then some, it didn’t double it. I doubt that “Paramount Vantage” (remember that operation?) or Miramax made much money off of Anderson’s film, but it doesn’t matter, he’s Hollywood’s loss leader, a totem of quality and respectability for nearly 30 years.

He’s shooting a new movie now, probably an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s 1990 Hollywood novel Vineland (Leonardo DiCaprio has been heard reciting Pynchon dialogue by set crashers). But it’s supposedly a contemporary film, one which will presumably update that novel’s mid-1980s Reagan/Nixon satire. I haven’t read it, I will before the movie is out next August, even if it’s not actually an adaptation of Vineland.

There Will Be Blood was an adaptation, too, of Upton Sinclair’s Oil!, but loose, with all credit of the character of Daniel Plainview to Anderson and Lewis. Of all four 2007 American Westerns, this is the one with the deepest quarry. No Country is grim, to the point, more powerful than anything else the Coens have ever done. Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is the one that aims highest and shows its stitching at times, but it does deserve to stand next to these two films. The 3:10 to Yuma remake just sucks.

It reminded me of Kubrick: the dissonant orchestral swells against imposing mountains, Plainview’s painful beginning, the way the movie begins just like 2001: A Space Odyssey—and how it ends in that bowling alley, more than wide angle lenses recalling the hallways and the red bathroom in The Shining. This is where both Plainview and Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) will die, Sunday with a wooden bowling pin to the head and Plainview calling an end to the film himself: “I’m finished!

It’s one of the great films, and while it’s been a while, I’ve never wavered—it makes you mad that other movies just don’t come close.

—Follow Nicky Otis Smith on Twitter: @nickyotissmith


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