Fire and brimstone

Review by Vives Anunciacion
Inquirer Libre February 21, 2008

There Will Be Blood
Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Based on Upton Sinclair’s novel “Oil!”
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis
Nominated for 8 Oscars

As the title promises, there will be blood. There is a pervasive sense that something scary or terrible is about to happen in the movie, even if nothing ghostly ever does. It’s not a horror movie, but it can get so creepy it’s close to being one. There is something scary in P. T. Anderson’s latest work, and it’s the creature called Daniel Plainview who is a monster of a human if there is one, a soulless brute of anger spewed from the depths of evil.

In Daniel Plainview’s own terms he is an oil man, a self-made prototype American businessman who literally broke back and bones picking for silver in rocks before drilling for crude oil in the deserts of California in the early 1900s. For the first 11 minutes of the movie, not a word is spoken, only the sound of Daniel’s pick and an unsettling music which indicate the 2 hour-plus movie isn’t going to be an easy watch. Daniel knows one thing and one thing only – that he wants no one else to succeed except himself. Two, if you count that he hates most people.

It starts in 1898, and then moves on to 1911, which is the most part of the movie. That’s when Daniel the successful oil man meets young Eli Sunday of the small desert town of Little Boston. Eli is an upstart preacher, whose youthful looks mismatch his mastery of the Holy Scriptures. In exchange for the town’s prosperity, Eli barters for a bigger town church – and the relationship binds so long as oil flows. But the movie isn’t a contest between the bible and black gold; though many times when it feels like so, it’s a fascinating clash. There Will Be Blood is really about the avarice inside Daniel Plainview. To that Daniel Day-Lewis rises sublime.

With a voice pulled from beneath the earth and a tired crooked limp that grows with age, Day-Lewis’s Plainview is a disturbing madman – a force of nature cold and articulate in front of the people he intends to take land from but rains fire and brimstone against any who slight the manner by which he raises his dear son H.W. And when he does, the earth trembles to the core. Paul Dano, who plays Eli, establishes a praiseworthy performance of his own, particularly in that scene where he exorcises the demon of arthritis, but the young actor can’t hold up to Day-Lewis’s searing mockery of salvation, as evident in the final climactic scene. In contrast, newcomer Dillon Freasier (as young H.W.) has a screen presence and angelic face that humanizes Plainview’s monstrosity, even with the bare use of words.

By sheer genius, the movie stays most compelling by remaining mysteriously incomplete. As far as a movie is concerned, it is either a character study that lacks a proper back story, or dramaturgy with missing arcs. There Will Be Blood is another P.T. Anderson declaration (after Boogie Nights, Punch Drunk Love and Magnolia) that cinema need not be ordinary.

“I am the Third Revelation,” Plainview thunders to Eli at the end with such power he might as well have been giving the first commandment to Moses. Daniel Day-Lewis is the burning bush.

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