There’s gold in them thar hills. Black gold, that is, for Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), an early California silver prospector-turned-oil-tycoon in “There Will Be Blood.” There’s Hollywood (statuette) gold gushing up on-screen, too, considering this film’s soul-drilling excellence.
With its operatic treatment of the themes of greed, family and religion, its stunning cinematography and production design which make the film look like it was found in a dusty museum vault and its master-class performances, this is a movie-lover’s movie through and through. Loosely based on Upton Sinclair’s novel “Oil!” and with no hint of a pat love story nor quota of Hollywood hotties, this film is also just gosh-darn refreshing!
Plainview, a fledgling oilman, is tipped off that a small central California town named Little Boston has crude bubbling up to its surface. When he arrives with cute son in tow and strikes a deal for real estate there, Pandora’s box cracks at the hinges. His only obstacle? Eli Sunday (Paul Dano, the self-muted son from “Little Miss Sunshine”), Plainview’s suspicious, charismatic (in the church sense), salvation-preaching nemesis. Will either of these fallible and emotionally-stunted human beings win in a showdown between the riches below and the riches above?
As you’ll read ad nauseam, Daniel Day-Lewis is simply amazing as Daniel Plainview; his character is artfully complex and brilliantly selfish and he hits every note with perfect pitch. I haven’t thought much about Day-Lewis for years now besides acknowledging that he’s totally competent as an actor, but I’m back in his corner and will continue to sing his praises for this performance alone, if need be.
“There Will Be Blood” deals with the dark side of humanity in all of its delicious diversity. There are some truly sneaky, evil things said and done in this film that had me groaning with delight–a satisfying delight, not from seeing other people’s misfortune (for this is, after all, just a film), but for seeing “real” fleshed-out characters do the things that I would never have the inclination to do but that exist as possibilities within the darkest regions of the human mind.
As expected, the deeper Plainview drills into the earth for that Texas Tea (with a California twist), the darker his soul becomes. But at what point does American Dream-ambition turn into greed? Is it the result of misplaced priorities or is this an addiction like any other?
With regard to Eli Sunday, is it possible to be an effective, successful and driven hallelujah preacher while keeping the spirit of the Word in your heart and actions? Or is there something inherently dark about salvation theology and a congregation’s need for human idols that naturally drive preachers from the light?
As it turns out, blood is spilled in this fifth film by writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson (“Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia,” “Punch-Drunk Love”), but not in Tarantino buckets as the title suggests; any violence found in this flick feels appropriate and borne of real-world motivation. I’ve been a fan of the director since I stumbled across “Magnolia,” but “There Will Be Blood” ushers in a new plateau of maturity for him where he’s less “visible.” Watching this film I felt like I was in the hands of a master craftsman.
“There Will Be Blood” is a must-see for anyone who can appreciate a beautiful film that dares to set up shop in the psyche’s darkest depths, though in an era of corporate greed and bottom-line theology, this decadent cat-and-mouse game between a shrewd oilman and an errant preacher whose souls are as black as the oil that binds them should resonate with most everyone.
– Written by Todd Havens