From its title on down, There Will Be Blood has an air of impending tragedy. The movie literally buzzes with doom. Operatic filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson has fashioned an Upton Sinclair novel about the turn-of-the-century oil boom into a character portrait of Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), a bootstrap-pulling oil tycoon who pursues his business ventures with a megalomaniacal fervor.
The movie charts Plainview’s rise and fall, envisioning him as a model for all that America has to offer – and what going after it might cost. With its grandiose central character and beautifully filmed natural settings, this is almost as if Terrence Malick had directed Citizen Kane. Day-Lewis is nothing less than a spectacle in the lead role. If he sometimes seems to be overdoing it, there are other scenes in which his growling, frenzied performance feels just right. Matching him in intensity is Paul Dano as a young and ambitious preacher named Eli Sunday. Sunday has a church in a town Plainview plans to take over, and soon the two men are in a heated battle for the residents’ hearts and minds. The movie’s signature scene is when Plainview allows Sunday to baptize him in hopes of winning over the congregants. Sunday uses it as an opportunity to humiliate the proud Plainview, and watching Day-Lewis communicate yet contain the man’s rage counts among the most galvanizing acting moments I’ve ever seen.