Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Top 71 Things I Love About There Will Be Blood (that no one talks about)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is a masterpiece, certainly one of the best films made since its release a decade ago. Upon reflection, it’s incredible Anderson was even able to make this movie. Prior, Anderson had done a little-seen two hander (Hard Eight), two large mosaics (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) and a quirky character study (Punch-Drunk Love). The tone, pace, and execution of There Will Be Blood don’t have much in common with those other films. In hindsight, There Will Be Blood kind of came out of nowhere. Which makes it that much better. Here are several reasons why.

I’ve always admired how Jonny Greenwood’s initial music cue is so similar to the music that opens Ingmar Bergman’s Persona. Seriously, listen here.

I love how the film always delays informing us what year it is. The movie is telling us from the onset that it will reveal itself to us in whatever damn pace it sees fit.

How gently Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) picks up the stick of dynamite.

The slight panic/frustration on Daniel’s face as he struggles to get his tools out of the mine.

The way Daniel checks to see if he’s found silver before checking on his shattered leg. That tells us everything we need to know about him. Money will always come first, even before his own well-being.

Quentin Tarantino brought up a great point about this shot. We see Daniel barely able to move as a result of his leg injury. The camera pans up to reveal the cruel, vast landscape ahead of him. Then BAM, we cut to Daniel laid out in a silver and gold assay office. How the hell was he even able to make it that far? He can’t stand, let alone walk. Daniel’s unseen journey from the desert to the office is a movie in and of itself.

Daniel almost passing out from the oil fumes. But does he stop to take a break?

This look of bemused confidence after the spike falls into the pit. As if he’s saying, “Yeah, we got it.”

Instead of this guy yelling up, “Hey! We got oil!” He let’s Daniel see for himself. It’s so much more interesting without dialogue.

Is that blood or oil (or both) on his face? We can’t really tell. It’s all the same. Exactly.

The way Daniel raises the bottle of milk (after pouring a little whiskey on the tip) to the baby, as if to say, “Cheers, drink up.”

You can’t direct babies, they don’t have the cognitive ability to listen. You have to wait for them to do something, then react. I would love to know how long they had the camera rolling on this shot, just waiting for something. And Day-Lewis’ reaction… that is acting.

Daniel almost interjecting but deciding it isn’t worth his time.

Another delay of the timestamp. Always when we’re in a master shot. Brilliant.

Notice how the police aren’t letting anyone walk by, but Daniel and H.W. (Dillon Freasier) do anyway. That’s power.

How quickly Daniel says “one-sixth” in regards to the landowner’s royalty.

Daniel pausing after his pitch, then looking at the man’s wife and asking about her children. He’s such a wise businessman. If the pitch isn’t working, appeal to their personal nature.

How the staging of the camera slowly reveals who is in the room during this scene. First with Paul (Paul Dano) walking into frame, then by panning over to Daniel who has been talking off-camera, then Paul sitting down to reveal Fletcher (Ciarán Hinds) sitting next to Daniel, to H.W. sitting up in the background.

“Listen, Paul, if I travel all the way up there and I find that you’ve been lying to me, I’m going to find you and I’m going to take more than my money back. Is that all right with you?”

Daniel waiting for H.W. to catch up. He really does want to include him.

I’ve written about this scene before, but it’s worth reiterating. The way Daniel owns this conversation is expert business manipulation. He’s asserting dominance so eloquently.

Daniel studying Eli (Paul Dano), as if Daniel is wondering if this is actually Paul.

The nod Daniel gives to H.W. after Eli leaves. Hell, could be the first time either of them have seen twins before.

Daniel letting H.W. smell the oil on the stick, again including him.

H.W. struggling to remember the name of the Sunday family. Such an honest moment a kid would have.

“What would you give us for it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Something you don’t know.”
“That’s right.”
And like that, the battle lines are drawn.

After Eli says he wants $10,000 for his church, Daniel studies him with this expression for 10 seconds. The power Day-Lewis has with a stare is remarkable.

This one-way conversation Daniel is (presumably) having with Fletcher. The way Daniel says, “Bring Fred English,” and Fletcher (we assume) says English isn’t available, so Daniel quickly says, “Good enough,” and hangs up. All business, no time to waste.

The cordial yet thinly tense exchange Daniel has with Gene (Dan Swallow), beginning with Gene getting off the train, seeing H.W. and letting it register that Plainview is already here, damnit.
“Like I said, go east.”

Daniel looking genuinely empathic that H.W. is so upset because Mary’s dad beats her.

Clouds covering the sun as Eli goes to visit Daniel. Darkness abounds.

This is one of my favorite moments in the film; such a quiet display of power and control. It’s Daniel’s drunken, loving manner toward Mary, all while insulting Mary’s father, Abel (David Willis), right in front of Abel. It’s spellbinding.

Daniel passed out on the floor after the party. It’s the first time we see him not fully in control.

Daniel holding out the dead man’s cross for Fletcher. It’s as if Daniel is utterly repulsed by it.

Eli’s sermon has been talked about it a lot, but I want to make mention that the scene is captured in one shot, lasting 2 minutes and 30 seconds. A great stealth oner.

Daniel’s expression following Eli’s sermon. He’s got some competition, after all.

The stillness of the drill, the physical vulnerability of H.W., Daniel’s mundane office work – oh yes, disaster is surely on the horizon.

The thundering silence that occurs as H.W. hits his head.

This guy’s hat flying off. Such a nice detail.

Watch this. Watch the way this actor (Dillon Freasier) readjusts his head and blinks heavily before saying, “I can’t hear my voice.” Listen to the innocent panic in his delivery of that line. This is a remarkable performance. I still can’t believe that, to date, H.W. is Freasier’s only role.

Daniel hitting the cable down with one swing of the hammer (and that’s at the end of a 25 second long shot). Would love to know how many takes this took. DDL probably did it in one, the bastard.

The light flares at the edge of the screen during this scene.

The fact that Daniel has been watching this thing burn all damn night.

The slight nod Daniel gives after the fire is stopped.

Fletcher’s very subtle apperception when Daniel instructs him to find a teacher for H.W.

“I look at people and I see nothing worth liking. I want to earn enough money I can get away from everyone.”
And there it is. There is the only true, candid omission from Daniel in the movie. This is what motivates his greed: to be left the hell alone.

Daniel’s increasingly aggressive demeanor during this whole exchange.

Love how Daniel’s attitude toward Al (James Downey), Little Boston’s real estate man, changes over the course of the film. From generous to tense to menacing.
“Don’t be thick in front of me, Al.”

“How big is the room?” Is the only empathy Daniel can conjure about H.W. It’s astounding, sociopathic behavior.

Daniel drunkenly sobbing after he buries Henry (Kevin J. O'Connor). The emotions are there. They’re just buried so deep.

The gunshot sound effect that opens the scene with Bandy (Hans Howes).

This face. So perfect for the camera.

The final 10 seconds Daniel has with Bandy. It’s as if Daniel looks slightly afraid of what he’s about to do.

The cut to Daniel sitting in Eli’s church. I love the way Daniel jumps, like he’s just as surprised as us.

Watch the transformation of Eli’s face. What I wouldn’t give to know what Daniel said to Eli here.

“Mr. Plainview has been generous enough to make a $5,000 donation to the church that we are still waiting for.”

Also, I never thought much about the implication of this shot before. Daniel is so nice to Mary, perhaps more than anyone. It can’t just be to please H.W., because H.W. is gone. What in Mary brings out Daniel’s true human emotion?

This is one of the most significant scenes in the film for me. It changed the way I watch movies. When I saw There Will Be Blood in the theater, I became obsessed with this scene, and thought about it long after it was over. I had no idea how they had useable dialogue from this shot. The camera is so far away, so there are clearly no boom mics to record audio. I went home and researched this method of filmmaking to do death, learning that audio from this shot could be achieved through ADR (recording dialogue during post-production), or, more likely, through lav mics that the actors are wearing under their clothes. Both of those methods are painfully obvious to me now, but back then, this shot acted as a tremendous film lesson.

This is the only time Daniel tells H.W. he loves him. He does it while they’re hugging and H.W. can’t see. And because he can no longer hear, he has no idea his father is saying it.

H.W. recognizing the anger in Daniel’s eyes as the men from Standard Oil walk into the restaurant.

Daniel’s chair falling when he stands up.

I always thought it was curious how Daniel got drunk so quickly from just one drink in this scene. Then I realized, he was probably half in the bag before he showed up to the restaurant. Then I wondered: how many hours of the day is this guy shitfaced?

We only see Daniel fire four shots in the scene, but look how many bullet holes are on the wall. This is all the guy does all goddamn day.

Interestingly, Daniel’s “closest associate” in the back right of this shot is not Fletcher. I’ve always wondered what Fletcher’s breaking point was.

The interpreter’s delivery of, “I thank God I have none of you in me.”

The way Eli lingers on, “He is very good looking.” I always thought there was something more to that thought, especially when Eli goes on to admit that, “I’ve sinned. I need help. I’m a sinner. I’ve let the Devil grab hold of me in ways I never imagined.”

One of my college roommates was a man of considerable faith. We would often have great conversations about his perspective of movies. I remember showing him There Will Be Blood and talking about it at length after. Discussing the moral implications of this scene, in which Eli admits that God is a superstition, remains one of my favorite post-movie conversations I’ve ever had.

I love the way Daniel embellishes Paul’s story, saying he paid him $10,000 (it was $500), and that Paul has “Three wells producing $5,000 a week.” You know damn well Daniel hasn’t seen Paul since the first (and only) time they met.

This guy’s line delivery. Priceless.

I love not only this dedication, but the fact that it is left on the screen for 11 full seconds.

Finally, to sum up my thoughts on There Will Be Blood, as it relates to Anderson’s entire career: I think Anderson made his masterpiece with his film, and has subsequently delivered two compelling but experimental movies (The Master, Inherent Vice), with a slight fuckitall attitude as to how those movies would be received. And I dig it. Here’s to waiting for Christmas Day, when we’re all privy to the next Anderson/Day-Lewis film.

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21 comments:

  1. I fucking love that film. "I drink your milkshake.... I DRINK IT UP!!!!!!!!" I loved the ambition of it as well as every attention to detail in cinematography and art direction (courtesy of Jack Fisk who is Terrence Malick's longtime production designer) as well as the sound. Jonny Greenwood's score is still one of my favorite scores ever. How it didn't even get nominated because of some stupid technicality is beyond me. Stupid Oscar rules.

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    1. I will never understand those Oscar rules. So so dumb. This is one of the best, most iconic scores of recent memory. Should've been nominated AND won. Love that you're such a fan of this film.

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  2. This movie is spectacular and I was SO pissed when Paul Dano didn't get an Oscar nomination. Ugh.

    I love everything about this post. I was so happy to see it in my feed. I like that you mention the credits. The first time I saw this, I don't know if the film was just spliced the wrong way or what, but it ended literally after Daniel Says "I'm finished!" Smash cut to credits. I had zero time to process what just happened. I was glad to see later on that there was a bit after that. lol

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    1. Oh that's so weird... so you didn't hear the music start and stuff? Dano definitely deserved a nomination for his work here, but wow, what a tough category supporting actor was that year. So happy you like the post!

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  3. Louis, when will your Bergman post be ready to publish

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    1. Soon! Hopefully within a few weeks.

      (PS, who's Louis?)

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  4. Such a fantastic film. Consistently impressed by everything that went into it and always insightful to read these kind of posts. Great stuff.

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    1. Thanks Mark! I'm glad you're such a fan of this film. It is so well made.

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  5. Great post, thanks.
    I also love this film. On my IPOD, I like to shuffle the music scores for this, A Thin Red Line, and Monster's Ball to sometimes incredinle effect: the tones of these movies interwoven as if by design.

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    1. I love The Thin Red Line score as well. I actually write to movie scores, have for a long while now. The music in this movie is tops. Thanks for the comment!

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  6. I must confess I didn't much appreciate or like this movie but I only saw it once when it was first released and need to give it another chance. This was a riveting read, though, I certainly recognize how it is an extremely well done movie but it didn't grab me like it did others.

    Oh man, I'd love if you featured The Prestige in this series. I recently rewatched it, twice, and it's just such an exceptionally well made movie

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    1. What's so cool about this movie is even if you don't really like it, it's impossible to deny how well made it is.

      I didn't know you liked The Prestige! I tweeted about that movie a long time ago (maybe 2011) and got my ass handed to me by haters. I was stunned. I just tweeted how much I liked the movie and people went apeshit. No idea what that was about. But I should cover it, because I think it's great too!

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    2. The Prestige has haters?! What the hell! It seems like a lot of people - me included - choose it as Nolan's best. It's actually in my top 10 of all time, it's one of the smartest movies ever made and when you rewatch it Nolan's genius in hiding twists in plain sight is even more impressive

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    3. Yeah I never understood the hate for it either. Nolan has die hard fans, which, in turn, is bound to draw detractors. But I love the hell out of that movie too.

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  7. Awesome post! I'll never forget seeing There Will Be Blood in a theater all to myself. It was like pure magic. Just from the screencaps, I can remember how every scene plays out. Score, acting, cinematography - everything about it is just perfect. I gotta watch this again sometime.

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    1. Thanks Katy! I remember seeing this one in the theater too. My heart was pounding during that final scene. And when it ended, I felt like I had just been in a fight. Such visceral filmmaking.

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  8. This post is, by far, superior to the movie itself! I know I'm in the minority, but outside of the performances, this movie bored me to tears. With the exception of the milkshake scene...I'm all about sipping from YOUUUUURRRRRR milkshake now.

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    1. Aww well I'm glad you like the post! That milkshake scene is absolutely bonkers. DDL is totally gone. Only Daniel Plainview exists.

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  9. The thing I liked most about this film was that it finally ended.
    I may have kind of hated it.

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    1. Daaamn. Harsh words. But we like what we like and don't what we don't.

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  10. Man, i need to watch this movie again. I loved it when it came out, but haven't gotten around to rewatching it since. The final act of the movie still sticks with me though. Absolutely fantastic.

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