It is not the first time a connection has been made between blood and oil. We’re all familiar with the clichéd anti-war slogan these days, as shouted by protesters, worn on t-shirts and printed on bumper stickers. Yet in “There Will Be Blood” (Paramount Vantage), the latest picture by Paul Anderson (“Punch Drunk Love,” “Magnolia,” “Boogie Nights,”) Anderson paints a different portrait of what perhaps started it all – the early beginnings of America’s insatiable thirst for oil.
Stunning landscape cinematography of barren California pastures and a one-of-a-kind musical score composed by none other than Radiohead’s own Jonny Greenwood help set the scene for the turn-of-the-century American West, when oil was the new gold. The story, based on the novel “Oil!” by Upton Sinclair, follows the life of Daniel Plainview, a self-proclaimed “Oil Man” poignantly played by Daniel Day-Lewis (“Gangs of New York,” “The Crucible,” “The Last of the Mohicans.”)
Plainview, a handsome gentleman with a keen desire for enormous wealth, uses the charm of his young son H.W. to buy up land from the common-folk so that he may drill for his black gold. Upon acquiring his new fields in southern California from a poor rancher, Plainview starts a lifelong conflict with the rancher’s religiously fanatic son Eli Sunday, played by Paul Dano (Dwayne Hoover from “Little Miss Sunshine.”)
Plainview and Sunday constantly butt heads throughout the film, as one is only concerned with acquiring his own riches through greed and sinful tactics while the other only cares about his church and its congregation. The problem is that neither of them can get what they want without the other one’s unwanted help – for Plainview it is land and for Sunday it is money for the church. What ensues is a dark and bizarre, yet somehow hilarious, series of scenes where the two characters take it upon themselves to utterly humiliate the other in ways only director Paul Anderson could concoct.
Other sub-plots surround the film as well, like the sudden appearance of Plainview’s long-lost half-brother Henry from New Mexico and Plainview’s gritty relationship with his son H.W. It is the utter absurdity of the characters played so carefully by Lewis and Dano that has earned this film top markings from most critics.
The film clocks in over two-and-a-half hours and tends to skip around the years, following Plainview from the time he was a young, ambitious oil driller to when he goes completely and utterly insane as an older man in his enormous mansion. While some of the less important scenes may seem to drag on for longer than desired, the movie still moves at an impressive pace – (I never once checked the time to see how long I had been sitting there.)
Jonny Greenwood’s original score was one of the most impressionable technical aspects of the film, filled with swooping, chaotic string sections and other frightful tonalities that you would perhaps expect to hear in a horror film such as “The Shining,” not as the background music for a shot of California mountains. Nevertheless, it somehow synched perfectly with the dark nature of Plainview’s character and the vengeful greed associated with it.
Having already won a Golden Globe prize for best performance by an actor by Daniel Day-Lewis, as well as being nominated for many other awards, “There Will Be Blood” has set the stage for impressive motion pictures in 2008.
“There Will Be Blood” is currently playing in theaters nationwide.