Most everyone* seems to agree that There Will Be Blood is pretty amazing, if possibly also something a failure. What’s less agreed upon is whether the film’s hysterical, bowling-alley ending is weird, or genius, or kind of a cop-out.
Roy Edroso of Alicublog makes the case for the ending:
This leads to an ending many critics find problematic. I disagree. It’s formally audacious, but the whole film has been that — this is just a new, shocking type of audacity. Suddenly it’s years later, we’re in a little room, and under bright lights Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano (Plainview and Sunday) act their asses off in a chamber drama/cage match. And there’s Blood!
I suspect the arguments over the ending have less to do with the tone shift than with an unease with the whole film that the mini-gotterdammerung ending throws into relief. For me, the ending satisfactorily fulfills the story.
I liked the ending, maybe even more than Roy, and you can find my take on the film’s final scene over at the Horizon. But I wanted to add that what actually did bother me about the film was not the bowling-alley showdown with Eli, but the final confrontation with Plainview’s son that preceded it. In truth, I’m not exactly sure what it was that bothered me about that scene — it seemed at once too flat and too overdone — but it felt off. Not narratively; the son was destined, like all other men in Plainview’s orbit (which is to say all other men), to become a competitor.
But tonally, perhaps, the scene felt wrong, with small, constrained rhythms. Everything previous in the film had been expansive, wide, epic, even while keeping a very narrow, intimate focus on its lead character. That scene, even in Plainview’s cavernous mansion, felt crammed in by comparison. Perhaps this was intentional, to show how Plainview had sunken into himself, cut himself off, barricaded himself inside with his wealth. But it still felt wrong. Maybe it would’ve worked had it taken place out on some grand estate ground, as if to suggest that all the world was Plainview’s, that he had finally conquered everything. But as it is, the scene plays just slightly off-kilter, a single off-key note in a grand, strange symphony.
*By which I mean the incredibly small group of people who spend far, far too much time reading and thinking about movies.