A BLOODY GOOD FILM
by Kevin Bowen
published December 31, 2007
There Will Be Blood
now playing in
New York and Los Angeles
I would sum up the difference between Michael Clayton and Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood with the following dinner-party questions.
Does power corrupt, or does power attract? Does our capitalist system, with the aggression needed to grease the wheel, force moral men into bad
deeds? Or does the system smile upon the misanthrope's cunning energy? Does our way of life mandate the rise of men of wicked strength to bend
the elements to their will?
There Will Be Blood, as the title might suggest, sees the latter. It locates said cunning energy in
Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis). We spend the first 20 minutes with him in almost complete silence, as in 1898 he works an Arizona silver
mine that's really a glorified hole in the ground. There is sun, and wind, and pain. This isn't work for the people person.
Soon he has his silver, and he goes looking for his gold. Black gold. Texas Tea. Oil, that is. After building a small oil empire, word comes to
him of a county of dirt farms in California where oil virtually bubbles out of the ground. The residents need an expert's help. With his young
son and "business partner" in tow, Plainview will travel to California to bring in his biggest, oiliest catch.
As oil comes, misfortune follows. Obstacles. Accidents. Deaths. A young man named Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), who wants to build his
fire-and-brimstone ministry. With a fervent believer and a powerful, unscrupulous loner, the men will soon clash.
Many already see Plainview as a shadow of the cinema’s great American megalomaniac, Charles Foster Kane. Both are men with an itch they can’t
find, much less scratch. They pursue power to fill the hollow reaches inside. For both men, the need to control is the only form of love. Blood
even ends inside a giant pleasureland mansion, one that is both crisply new and in ruin.
However, Plainview is just as much a shadow of Faulkner. Like Thomas Sutpen in "Absalom, Absalom." A man of admirable ambition and drive, but
sapped by his rapacious appetite. In fact, this is a very traditional American story, based on an Upton Sinclair novel, twisted by Anderson into
something that at least occasionally surprises.
Whatever else you say about There Will Be Blood, this is gigantic filmmaking. Cinematographer Robert
Elswit's best moment comes amid the swirling torch of an oil well fire, captured in hypnotic long takes. Only one, if I was counting right. The
bleak finale, which plays like "The Dude" Lebowski's worst acid trip, is one of the most original visions that you’ll see from Hollywood. There
are things that made me drift. For instance, a subplot about a long-lost brother might be necessary. But necessary doesn't mean gripping. Still,
among the film's many exotic sights, the best is seeing Anderson back on top of the game.
kevinbowen @ stageandcinema.com