Boogie Nights announced Paul Thomas Anderson's arrival as a precociously, ferociously gifted prodigy intent on beating his heroes (Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, Hal Ashby, Quentin Tarantino) at their own game. Anderson's often-brilliant follow-up, Magnolia, sometimes sagged under the weight of its ambition, while the oddball romantic comedy Punch Drunk Love was a compelling but unmistakably minor film. Yet Anderson's previous work just feels like a warm-up for There Will Be Blood, a stunningly powerful epic that fully realizes Boogie Nights' abundant promise, yet feels nothing like it. It's what Scorsese's Gangs Of New York should have been.
Freely adapted from the Upton Sinclair novel Oil!, the film casts Daniel Day Lewis as a rapacious oilman perennially accompanied by his son Dillon Freasier, a moppet who puts a benevolent, angelic face on his dad's ruthless business dealings. Day Lewis is accustomed to making a killing in business, so when a charismatic preacher (Paul Dano) gets in the way of his plans, their conflict quickly escalates into a vicious personal war. Day-Lewis seems intent on showing Dano that when it comes to raining vengeance and fury on his enemies, the Old Testament God has nothing on an oilman with a grudge.
Day Lewis goes through much of the film as a man tethered to the world solely through the bonds of family, as represented by his son and a mysterious long-lost brother whose surprise appearance raises more questions than it answers. As these ties rupture, he begins to lose touch with his faltering humanity. The man becomes a monster, a force as volcanic and unpredictable as a raging oil gusher. Blood is a fascinating anomaly—a rip-roaring two-fisted epic concerned almost exclusively with the tormented psyche and spiritual death of a single man. Driven by Jonny Greenwood's pummeling, intense score, it's a vision of the monstrousness of capitalism divorced from morality, a favorite Sinclair theme. As Blood's focus grows tighter and Day Lewis' theatrical villainy grows more unhinged, the film becomes a darkly funny vision of hell in human form. As long as money retains the power to poison men's souls, Anderson's uncompromising masterpiece will continue to resonate as a harrowing cautionary warning to a country with oil pumping through its veins, clouding its judgment and coarsening its soul.