The last time Daniel Day-Lewis, the towering lead in There Will Be Blood, was seen in an Oscar-nominated role, he was creating the bombastic character of The Butcher in Martin Scorcese's Gangs of New York. The Butcher was a terrifyingly violent yet charismatic force, and Day-Lewis forged him into an indelible character.
With Daniel Plainview, the oil baron of Blood, Day-Lewis has created something even more awe-inspiring; the bravura of the butcher remains, but with Paul Thomas Anderson's latest opus, Day-Lewis has created something new, something even more enticingly entertaining: an insatiable capitalist and philosophical misanthrope.
This is not to say, however, that Anderson, an old hand at vast and complex epics (Boogie Nights, Magnolia), isn't also showing his considerable strengths with Blood. The film, which takes place in roughly three acts, traces the rise and reign of a diligent petrol-miner-turned-relentless monarch of capital.
Anderson crafts the first act as a nearly silent film, attentively and almost lyrically giving a glimpse of the hard and painful life of a reclusive miner. It's with the second act, though, that Anderson creates some of the finest American direction in years. As Anderson documents the workings of Plainview's ever-expanding empire, he captures not only the vastness of Plainview's surroundings, but the enormity of the realized Plainview himself. As Plainview conquers not only the lands around him but the people who dwell upon them, Anderson captures each moment with clarity and remarkable detail.
Accustomed to large casts, Anderson shows a surprising ability in not only using a single stellar performer to sterling results, but also using the myriad of natural glories in the American frontier as an ensemble of startlingly powerful images in their own right.
With Blood, however, he has created a gothic masterpiece; stripped of his past reliance on visual quirks, Anderson embraces a constant and steady output of remarkable images and an impressive smoothness in telling a grandiose parable of greed and malignance.
Plainview himself, as carefully and muscularly crafted by Day-Lewis, is a surprisingly unfettered character. Throughout Blood, Plainview, neither a hero nor a villain in this film, tramples the competition, fulfilling his devilish mantra, "I want no one else to win." What he contends with, what neither money nor charisma conquer, is a faltering relationship with his son and the realization that even with all of his wealth and ability, he is insulating himself from everything and everyone. It's easy to view There Will Be Blood as simply a tale of unfettered greed run amok, but below its surface, this remarkable film contains some painful truths concerning humanity's often bitter moments of solitude, no matter how powerful a person may be.