CAPSULE: THERE WILL BE BLOOD is the story of a fictional early giant of the oil industry. Daniel Day-Lewis plays wildcat oil man Daniel Plainview in what is probably one of the best performances of the year. The story is loosely taken from the first 150 pages or so of Upton Sinclair's novel OIL! The film is more a literary film than an action one and is an education in the origins of the oil industry. The title is technically true, but this is not really a violent film. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Daniel Plainview (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) is a silver prospector in 1898 who repeatedly nearly kills himself from his own poor planning and taking of risks. He somehow manages to survive his own incompetence, and in the process discovers oil in the shaft he was digging for silver. Thirteen years later he has dubbed himself an oil man and is building a powerful oil syndicate in which he is to make all the decisions and his investors are to remain silent. It is easy to see where this film might be going. He could be becoming a totally soulless exploiter of others, stealing their land to enrich himself. Considering that the story is coming from social critic Upton Sinclair that might be what could be expected, but that expectation is neither entirely right nor entirely wrong. Rapacious as he is, he still is some modicum of the audience sympathy.
Plainview is a business shark swimming among the oil sharks of the major oil companies. Rather than cheating the poor he purchases land from, he simply drives very hard bargains, perhaps harder than necessary. Plainview is not really a villain, and he will be decent to people if it does not cost him anything. He operates mostly from selfishness, but he has some grains of decency and the occasional scruple lodges with him. He could have better safety on his oil derricks. He is nowhere near what would be modern OSHA standards, but he does have concern for his men and for the community where he drills. Soon he come at odds with and the aptly named Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), an evangelical preacher who is more charismatic that Plainview could ever hope to be and probably just as amoral and just a bit more creepy. A major theme is about the quiet conflict between Plainview and Sunday. It is only by inches that Plainview has the moral upper hand. They each prey on the weak and neither wants the other getting in his way.
The story has more than a few parallels to GIANT and especially CITIZEN KANE. Plainview mortgages his personal relationships for success. Like Kane he builds his business and becomes wealthy but loses the love of those closest to him. In this case he loses the son who early on tags along behind him as another silent partner. He can think of nothing better to do for this son than to give him a successful family oil business. Family has meant so little to him that when his brother shows up in the oil field Plainview has no idea even if he is genuine or not. Plainview is a wild man, a force of nature, in a world that is becoming more civilized in spite of itself. When faced with an executive of a major oil company who is simply a more urbane version of himself, Plainview unnerves the executive by threatening to cut his throat. Plainview is always the primal savage. He may be eloquent when he needs to be, but the savage never leaves him.
The style of the film is strong and not entirely pleasant. Not one word is spoken in the film for the first fifteen minutes, making the point of how solitary Plainview has become in the silver mining business. Much of the early parts of the film are shot with a noir-ish dark lighting. The shadows on faces fade into darkness. The effect is even greater when those faces are covered with oil. The frame of the picture is dark with some light highlights. This oddly suggests the pools of oil we see, black with a little light reflected from the ripples. Director Paul Thomas Anderson's way of filming people in nature is reminiscent of Terrence Malick's films. The real show is Day- Lewis's performance in a voice and cadence reminiscent of John Huston.
Though it is very different from the Upton Sinclair novel this is a film with the complexity of literature. THERE WILL BE BLOOD is an intelligent if not entirely pleasant experience to watch. I rate it a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0469494/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2008 Mark R. Leeper