THERE WILL BE BLOOD was photographed in the same place as the Coen brothers' latest flick. Despite this new movie's title, though, it had no where near as much blood as its now Oscar rival No Country For Old Men. Though several people die, the amount of red liquid spilled is considerably less than one might expect.
Thanks to a brilliant performance by the movie's star, Daniel Day-Lewis, the viewer is left on edge throughout the entire picture. You sense that this power and wealth-hungry oilman is always teetering on the brink of turning psychotic and going on a murderous spree, but he doesn't. You're always scared of him, but writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights and Magnolia) endears us to this insane character.
This film reminds us of where exactly the lust for power or ultimate greed will lead. It's a path that takes us only to that of destitution and poverty. Daniel Day-Lewis' character of Daniel Plainview does strike it rich through his drilling of black gold, but his angry ambition pushes everyone away until he's left alone, leaving him truly empty and poor in spirit, and capable of the most heinous of acts.
Some have already drawn parallels to Orson Welles' Citizen Kane and I would even make comparisons or draw distinctions to James Dean in 1956's Giant, another sprawling epic involving a greedy oil man. Sadly, this new film isn't quite up to those classics. Anderson isn't really able to resonate a straightforward message nor does he capture the true essence of Upton Sinclair's book "Oil!" from which this film is based, according to Timothy Noah of Slate Magazine.
The story itself is rather lackluster, and a lot of holes in the narrative become apparent after awhile as Anderson jumps, not skips, over things, which you feel he should have focused more. For example, Paul Sunday, the son of a goat rancher, lures Plainview to a tiny settlement where Paul's father owns a plot of land that has oil deposits beneath it. Paul is referenced again twice, but he's never seen after that. Eli Sunday, a pastor who runs the church at the settlement and who is brother to Paul, is only seen.
It seems, however, that Eli and Paul are played by the same actor, a fact that seems glossed over. I was confused. I wasn't sure if it was supposed to be an intentional trick, if the two were supposed to be twins or what. No explanation is given. Anderson fails to flesh out that, along with a few other things.
Besides a very charming and engrossing, yet brief, monologue, we're led to believe that Plainview is a very successful businessman who enjoys plain talk and who is able to land all these real estate deals. But, we never actually see him doing those deals. In one deal where Plainview freaks out, he threatens a negotiator with the prospect of slitting his throat.
Plainview even tells an associate of his that he's going to show him how it's supposed to be done, meaning work a negotiation or land a deal. Except, he doesn't ever show him, or us for that matter. A few scenes go by and all of a sudden Plainview's increased his wealth, but we never learn how he did it. Did he threaten the negotiators, sweet talk them, bribe them with money or sexual favors, and use magic? How did he do it?
We get the idea that Plainview could possibly intimidate or manipulate anyone into doing anything, but we never really see him in action. There's even one scene where Plainview learns that a little girl is being abused. In the next scene, he says he's saved that little girl from it, but we never see how he does it. I would have liked to see more of Plainview doing what he says he's going to do.
Anderson really could have done more also with the character of Eli Sunday. As I watched, I came to see that Eli, this devout, church-going boy, was in many ways as corrupt and as evil as Plainview, clearly just as hungry for wealth and power, but more of a coward who hides behind God. This doesn't come to a head until the very climatic final scene that had me laughing more than quaking, but Anderson should have explained or given us more time or background on Eli. We're given a sketch of him when a full-fledged portrait was warranted.
Despite all the flaws, what saves this film is the amazing and enthralling acting performance of Daniel Day-Lewis who by my estimation gets better and better with every role he takes. He's the kind of actor, like Denzel Washington, who elevates the material simply because he's the one doing it. When he's on screen, you don't want to take your eyes off him. You're always interested by what he's saying and how he's saying it, what he's doing and how he's doing it.
Even though I wish Anderson would have focused on other things, Daniel Day-Lewis and his character of Plainview is in every scene, and I wasn't sorry because of it. There really isn't a moment when Day-Lewis is not on screen. He carries this film and he carries it well, and I was grateful for that.
What particularly stuck with me is the relationship that Plainview has with his son. After his son gets injured in an oil gusher that shoots black rain out the ground like water out a geyser, mimicking Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, but set aflame, Plainview smiles about it. It's horrifying, but Plainview dismisses his son and looks on at the gusher with glee. He cradles his son in his arms later, kisses his boy and flies off the handle if anybody talks badly of him, but at the same token, Plainview abandons his boy.
You wonder why, but by the end, you're satisfied as Daniel Day-Lewis truly locks down a complex character and nails it. Plainview is like the oil for which he mines. He's very slick and thick, bubbling under the surface and capable of combusting. He's dark, smooth and flows viscously from moment to moment. Just give him the Oscar now!
Four Stars out of Five.
Rated R for some violence.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 38 mins.