For me what's missing from There Will Be Blood (and most PTA movies) is solid subtext, and that's what makes it difficult for me to accept it as a next-level masterpiece. There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men are both built around characters that are single-minded, enigmatic forces of nature. No Country takes that character, puts him in a traditional thriller format, subverts our expectations of that format in a disconcerting way, and then has the characters mull over the existential implications of such a person existing.
So on a subtext level you can treat Chigur as a stand in for pretty much any destructive force that's beyond our control and understanding, and the movie is about wrestling with the existence of such things. That's just one way of looking at it, and there's probably more to it than that. But given that it explores these ideas in an original and sometimes almost poetic way, on top of the impeccable levels of craft, and memorable performances, dialogue, set pieces etc, I'd say that's a decent starting point for arguing for something as a masterpiece.
There Will Be Blood takes another such monolithic character and pits him against yet another one, who he destroys along with himself in the process. But once you look beneath the 'boxing match' aspect PTA talked about in that interview, what's it really about? As a character study it's limited because Plainview doesn't really change over the course of the story, he just follows through on his inevitable trajectory. It can't really be about the corruptive influence of capitalism or religion because the characters are the way they are from the very start, and we're given no real insight into how they became that way. Really the theme seems to be 'greed is bad' which when expressed as one dimensionally as it is here seems a touch trite for a supposed masterpiece of cinema.
Originally Posted by Bailey
Plainview is not broadly drawn because the movie has a simplistic "Capitalism is eeeeevil!" message. It's because he's a force of nature. A volcano which levels everything in its path; but we also might see benefit from as time goes on.
See that would potentially be a quite interesting angle: capitalism/the oil industry as something destructive, amoral and corrupting, but arguably worth it? But so far as I can remember that idea isn't actually explored in the movie at any point. Likewise Prankster's idea that it was about a sort of moral failure of the church was interesting, but I'm not sure how much it's actually supported by the movie itself.
Originally Posted by Ambler
And since a film is only the sum of its parts (what else could it be?), and all those parts are seemingly masterful as you put it, I would definitely not hesitate to call it what it is. If you don't think so, that's perfectly okay with me.
You yourself were vocal about considering Prometheus a worthless movie because of its duff script, despite many aspects of its craft being exceptional. TWBB's script is hardly terrible, but I've still to be convinced there's any great depth in it. As soon as discussion moves away from how this movie looks and sounds, and from DDL, they tend to get very vague about exactly what makes this thing the masterpiece I'm constantly being told it is. Can anyone mount a defence for it?