There Will Be Blood
|Daniel Day-Lewis||Daniel Plainview|
|Paul Dano||Paul Sunday/Eli Sunday|
|Kevin J. O'Connor||Henry|
|Directed by||Paul Thomas Anderson|
God and mammon wrestle in Paul Thomas Anderson’s stunning epic of the dawn of the American oil business, and it isn’t even a contest. Mammon wins going away, but still comes to a bad end.
Daniel Day-Lewis bestrides the narrow world like a colossus as Daniel Plainview, a turn-of-the-last-century prospector for gold and silver who stumbles upon oil in rural California and goes after it with the ferocity, focus, and ethical sensitivity of a feral cat. Like most overnight successes, Plainview has been knocking around at this business for a number of years when his ship comes in. The movie opens in 1898, with Daniel in a deep shaft below the desert floor, scrabbling away at the rock like an underground animal. For the first fifteen minutes there is no dialogue, just grunts and the sounds of digging, explosion, splintering wood, and a cry of pain.
When at last he talks, Day-Lewis channels the well-chewed, growling accents of the Hustons, Walter and John, a faintly Irish-tinged, leathery voice that carries no hint of Plainview’s Wisconsin origins. But it underlines his character, a duplicitous, persuasive, ruthlessly ambitious operator who will tread silkshod or roughshod, whichever is most efficient, over whatever people, obstacles, and opportunities lie in his path to wealth.
“I want to earn enough money so I can get away from everyone,” he confides to the long-lost half-brother, Henry (Kevin J. O’Connor) who shows up unexpectedly after his big strike. “I hate most people.”
By 1902 Plainview is traveling the West, drilling for oil. He is accompanied by his adopted son H.W. (Dillon Freasier), inherited as a baby when the boy’s father is killed in a drilling accident. As he grows older, H.W. provides an earnest and innocent face that can be a reassuring prop when Daniel is negotiating drilling leases with local folks. But there is a real affection there too, set up in a lovely moment on a train when the infant reaches a chubby hand up to explore Plainview’s stubbled lantern jaw and shaggy mustache. Plainview’s big break comes in 1911, in the form of Paul Sunday (Paul Dano), a young man who comes to him with an offer to sell information about the location of his family’s California farm, where crops won’t grow, but oil puddles on the flinty surface. Daniel goes, sees, and finds it good. He cheats Sunday’s family, buys up all (or almost all) the drilling rights and rights-of-way in the area on the cheap, strikes an ocean of oil, and builds a pipeline to deliver his product direct to the Pacific coast.
Paul Sunday’s twin brother Eli (also Paul Dano) is a fundamentalist Holy Roller preacher who becomes Plainview’s primary nemesis and antagonist. As Daniel’s stature grows, so too does Eli’s as he attempts to hitch his church’s wagon to the star of oil. But the hard-headed, unreligious Daniel gives little ground until an early and forgotten oversight comes hack to bite him, and he must bend his knee in a bitter concession to Eli’s world. That concession will rankle and gnaw at him until at the movie’s end, in a terrifying turnabout, it bursts forth like a gusher.
Anderson digs into the American mystique and into the vaults of Hollywood greatness to produce a picture that is intensely and thoroughly its own, yet teems with ghosts of movies past. You’ll sense the presence of Giant (and this movie is shot in the dusty footprints of that one, in Marfa, Texas, which also witnessed the making of No Country for Old Men this year.) You’ll feel a shadow of Citizen Kane, a breath of East of Eden, a shiver of Elmer Gantry. But Anderson, who made his name with the Los Angeles-centric Boogie Nights and Magnolia, here opens a door and steps through into startlingly new territory.
There Will Be Blood is loosely adapted by Anderson from the novel Oil! by the great muckraker Upton Sinclair. It’s a hard movie, hard in the sense of lack of softness. There are virtually no women to gentle it. Its milieu is rough and grimy. The movie is unrelentingly compelling, and yet even at two hours and forty minutes it seems incomplete. It lurches forward in time in choppy ways, it sketches in characters (like Ciaran Hinds’s Fletcher) who are only hinted at, and it leaves a lot unsaid about the growth of Eli’s charismatic preacher. The story involves an essential struggle between the red-toothed forces of Darwinian capital and rapacious evangelism. Anderson’s title promises an apocalypse. His movie is full of Old Testament imagery, symbolism, and proportion, yet when the whistle blows for the final play, God’s team is under-trained, and the clash is not between equals.
But then, it is hard to imagine an equal to the character that Day-Lewis builds. Every twitch, every fidget, every spark that dances in his dangerous eyes and every tooth bared by his dangerous smile, tells who he is. His walk, the hunch of his shoulders, the startling ferocity of his bursts of violence are all tiles in the mosaic that makes this performance the odds-on Oscar favorite.
© Text 2008 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be