Oh sure, we've got Paul Thomas Anderson all figured out by now. After four very fine films -- Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love -- we've surely got the filmmaker's number by now: He makes strangely sweet and slyly witty ensemble pieces, right? So then what's he doing making an adaptation of Upton Sinclair's massive tome Oil!? A straight-faced period piece in which the most recognizable names are Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano? This is not what we've come to expect from good ol' Paul T. Anderson!
And I suppose that's what makes the director's There Will Be Blood such a stunning surprise. It's more than a "departure" for the director; it's a monumental display of "evolution" that'll wow the established fans and impress a helluva lot more new ones. This is a dark, compelling and effortlessly engrossing film, one bolstered by a lead performance that ranks among the very best of Mr. Day-Lewis' impressive career.
The film will most often be compared to Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, so I guess I can get the ball rolling on that particular crutch -- but it's also an apt comparison. Which is not to say that There Will Be Blood will necessarily be dissected and revered 75 years from now, but the stories are certainly similar enough. Anderson's film opens with a long passage of dialog-free footage: A lone man hacks his way through a mine using a pick-ax and some dynamite. The year is 1898, and Daniel Plainview is about to become an oil man. We witness the man's unwavering resolve as he pulls himself from a vertical shaft after breaking his leg in a fall -- and if you think that accomplishment displayed some tenacity ... just wait.