Americans have always been, and always will be, fascinated with epics. I think it's a scale thing; it's in our very history, our very being, to do things in a big way. Thus many critics have been impressed by Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood, using big words to describe it: "bold," "magnificent," "saga," "titanic," "grandeur." Comparisons have been slung around not with anything recent, but with the likes of Citizen Kane, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and, appropriately, Giant. I have to admit, I was impressed too, but not excited. Though Anderson's pure filmmaking skill, his sense of movement, rhythm, timing, light and dark, places him among the greats of our time, I feel that There Will Be Blood is a step back into the all-too conventional, and the least of his five films.
Let's start with his source material, Upton Sinclair's novel Oil!, which was published in 1927. Sinclair was more of a political writer than a creative writer; he apparently sent copies of some of his books to members of Congress, and his views helped establish certain laws. Because of this condescending, soapbox quality, his work has inevitably fallen out of fashion, and out of print; the new movie tie-in is the only way one can buy the book today. Why dust off this creaky source material in 2007? Anderson undoubtedly found something resonant about it, which must invariably be political rather than personal. Perhaps he saw a connection between Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), scooping up all the oil in the Midwest and swindling anyone who gets in his way, and a lot of the suspicious oil activity that still goes on today.