Paul Thomas Anderson's ambitious portrait of an American oil tycoon
This week I saw a masterpiece. Paul Thomas Anderson's new film, There Will Be Blood, begins with a vast expanse of Western American landscape set in the late nineteenth century, a dark, looming score soars over the scene. It is among the barren, dusty hills that we find the film's central protagonist, Daniel Plainview, digging for gold and finding oil.
The opening sequence is fascinating and startlingly original. For a start, it uses no dialogue at all to achieve its central aims; we are introduced to the film's main character, who develops before us in a series of simple gestures and striking images. There is something about Anderson's storytelling that is intrinsically different to anything else on the big screen at the moment - and yet it's strangely accessible and compelling. Our anticipation of what is to come is not only dramatic in itself, but the sinister score lends a sense of dread and unease to everything that we see: it is as though, right from the start, Plainview's fate has already been decided.
I absolutely loved There Will Be Blood. It is a true American epic, sketching themes of family, religion and western capitalism in a way that explores their dynamics without becoming didactic or forceful. Daniel Day-Lewis' performance is a charismatic tour-de-force; he is the central backbone of the narrative, and more than anything the film feels like a character study of a man blinded by his desire to succeed - corrupted by the American dream of wealth and grandeur. There are certain thematic links that tie the film to Polanski's Chinatown, but more than anything I felt echoes of Citizen Kane - and not simply through similarities between Kane and Plainview, but in the inventive way each film tells its story.
The soundtrack is masterful. Jonny Greenwood, perhaps better known as one of the guitarists of Radiohead, has produced an orchestral score that is tense, experimental and modern - but it fits the film like a glove. I'm convinced I could hear the occasional influence of Krzysztof Penderecki, especially in those opening scenes, where pieces like Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima use strings in a particularly eerie and discordant way. Stanley Kubrick used Penderecki, along with Gyorgy Ligeti, to great effect in The Shining, and I even felt a few Kubrick influences in the film here and there - especially in the scenes involving Plainview's mansion and the bowling alley.
Oh, and the whole thing looks fantastic. Beautiful cinematography. Amazing landscapes. The first shots of the thick, black gold manage to suggest a sense of mystery, a sense of value, and a sense of danger - all in the same frame. There Will Be Blood may or may not win best film at this year's Oscar ceremony, but for my money it is the best film of the year. In fact, I dare say we'll be talking about this one in years to come. It's a right-on-the-money work of art. Anderson's struck it big.