Tap a rich vein
Get ready for otherworldly greatness if you head into a theater for There Will Be Blood, 2007’s best film, only now arriving in our area. Daniel Day Lewis’ blistering, devilish performance is the greatest of his accomplished career, and director Paul Thomas Anderson has made a second masterpiece to go alongside Magnolia. The movie is an instant classic.
Based very loosely on Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil, the film depicts the rise of fictional oil barren Daniel Plainview (Lewis) and his crazed lonely man’s destiny. The Lewis performance never falters, and Anderson’s direction is impeccable. Tension mounts scene after scene until an explosive finale smacks you over the head. This is a film capable of taking the wind right out of you … in a good way.
The movie opens with a brutal sequence void of dialogue with Plainview prospecting for silver and snapping his ankle. He graduates from precious metals to oil, gobbling up land and making false promises to many American townsfolk. Plainview’s greedy ambitions are coupled with his strange, muted brand of love for his partner and adopted young son H.W., played by the extraordinary actor Dillon Freasier.
Poisonous greed is represented on two fronts: Plainview’s insatiable quest to drain the planet for his own personal wealth and the equally evil financial aspirations of his nemesis, an insane young preacher named Eli (Paul Dano). While Plainview saps the Earth for capitalistic gain, Eli preys on souls to further the spread of his maniacal doctrine.
The way these two characters clash is positively frightening, with Lewis and Dano relishing every moment. It’s one of the greater character wars in a movie that I’ve ever seen, and that’s no exaggeration. When Plainview is essentially blackmailed into participating in a baptism, his hatred toward Eli is so palpable the screen almost catches fire.
Dano also portrays Eli’s brother, Paul, who alerts Plainview to oil on his family’s land. Anderson and Dano do some wonderfully strange stuff with the two roles (I often wondered if Paul was just one of nutty Eli’s personalities.) As Daniel’s mysterious long lost brother, Kevin J. O’Connor—who has often played comic sidekicks in the past—reinvents his acting career as a man of questionable integrity.
This is a film that many will love, but it’s going to have its share of haters. It’s the very definition of character study, and if you should make the decision not to care about the lives of its characters early on, you are going to be in for a long ride. This is a movie you must give yourself over to in order to enjoy it. While I will always argue its virtues, I find it difficult to really argue with anybody who didn’t like it. It isn’t for everyone.
The soundtrack by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood is landmark movie music making, perfectly complementing the performance and visuals. As for those visuals, Anderson and his crew (filming in some of the same Texas locales as No Country For Old Men) have come up with something authentic and beautiful.
There are single moments that burn into the brain. When Plainview goes for an ocean swim after being overcome by anger and doubt, the look on his face will make you want to hide under your movie seat. And I loved the moment where Plainview, sitting on a train with an infant H.W., allows the child to grab at his mustache. There’s something both sweet and alarming about it.
This film is one to be remembered. As for Lewis, his performance is one of history’s best, a hateful character who can’t help but retain our attention and at least a portion of our sympathies. It’s an achievement comparable to De Niro’s in Raging Bull or Brando’s in The Godfather.
I’ll go one step further and say it’s actually better.