There Will Be Blood is a fable about America.
It's a Western of sorts, in that it's a frontier story, and it concerns the oil boom in California at the turn of the 20th century.
Specifically, it's a rags-to-riches story about the fortunes of one oil man, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) and about how wealth fuels misanthropy.
The film is both disturbing and fascinating, and as oil is at the centre of the story, it is difficult to avoid contemporary political interpretation -- all of it negative. You could even read the movie as an indictment of the whole gung-ho, can-do American national spirit, because it plays out like manifest destiny gone haywire.
Which, come to think about it, is just where it went.
There Will Be Blood opens in 1898 with one man, Daniel Plainview, working a silver mine. The pickaxe does all the talking. The discovery of oil increases the general population of workers on the landscape, but almost nothing is said in the early scenes as Plainview and his men work day and night to establish a well. By 1911, with his adopted son at his side, Plainview is travelling the country, speaking to potential investors and buying up oil land.
A visitor gets Plainview to look at land in California, and before too long he is buying up large portions of the state. But Plainview has a small thorn in his side in the person of the Reverend Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), an evangelical charlatan of sorts who has a church where Plainview is drilling. Initially, Plainview seems to get the better of the country preacher, but the Rev Sunday knows how to get his own back. The two men are similar in many ways. Religion and capitalism are always connected.
Plainview seems to love his son, but he's not keen on any other members of society. He becomes increasingly withdrawn, success notwithstanding, and he's a hard-working, hard-drinking man. When a long-lost brother turns up, Plainview's only questions are, "What do you want?" and, "Are you angry? Are you jealous?" which suggest his expectations of people.
And when those negative expectations are met, Plainview's response is swift and violent. Eventually, Daniel Plainview is rich and successful. He's also paranoid, delusional and completely isolated.
There Will Be Blood is based on parts of Oil! by Upton Sinclair, and though writer/director P.T. Anderson takes the story in a different direction, he captures the novelist's interest in the place where the haves and the have-nots intersect. The movie is a sort of terrifying character study, and it is impossible to overstate how astonishing Daniel Day-Lewis is in the role of Mr. Plainview.
In the United States, where the movie was released in late December, Day-Lewis was singled out by critics everywhere for the best performance of 2007.
Performances, cinematography, writing, the amazing score from Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood -- we could go on. There Will Be Blood is odd, unsettling and completely engrossing, and just the thing to restore your faith in the movies.
(This film is rated PG)
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