- Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Paul Thomas Anderson’s small, character-driven films feel like epics, so there’s no surprise that he’d eventually try the real thing. Or that he’d get it right. Based on a Upton Sinclair novel called Oil! (the name change makes no sense), There Will be Blood is big, sprawling, and spectacular, and captures not just a moment in history but a 30-year transition.
Like all great epics, the story centers around a larger-than-life character: prospector/entrepreneur Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis, with a different accent than the last time he played an American). Plainview isn’t the out-and-out villain that the trailers imply; there’s a lot to like about him. He’s determined and courageous, crawling out of a mine and across wasteland with a broken leg. He seems to genuinely care about his workers; when a single father dies on the job, Plainview takes the baby as his own. But he’s clearly out to get rich, isn’t above hoodwinking others out of their share of the profits, and puts his work above all else. Worse, he has a dangerously violent temper. As he gets older and richer, he get meaner, too.
Plainview calls himself “an oil man,” and the label fits. Although we first meet him prospecting for silver in the late 19th century, within a few years the black gold has clearly become his expertise. Much of the story revolves around his building a small empire out of lucrative fields in a remote part of California. This is the early days of the automobile, and oil has become the stuff of fortunes.
Among other challenges, Plainview must contend with a young preacher named Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), who has an agenda of his own. We’re never quite sure if Eli is a charlatan out to bilk to gullible, or a truly religious man who’s confused the grace of God with his own ego. Anderson never totally reveals what makes either man tick, which only makes both of them more intriguing. The film never asks us to cheer one and boo the other.
There Will be Blood is about men. I think I could count the number of lines spoken by women with the fingers of one hand. These men don’t even talk about women, or love, or sex. The movie’s one romance is handled in a very brief and wordless montage.
Rather than use conventional big movie music, composer Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead creates an eerie and original score. Sometimes the music sounds like a storm of locusts coming your way. Other times like the tools used to drill oil wells.
I learned something interesting by staying through the credits. This film about our most popular fossil fuel–a work that partially romanticizes the birth of an industry that’s now warming the planet–was a carbon-neutral production.
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