By Marty Finley
With the words “I’m finished,” the film There Will Be Blood barrels to a close, leaving the viewer with several answers, but even more questions. The film, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and nominated for eight Academy Awards, is the polar opposite of what is normally produced by Hollywood. There are no car chases, expensive CGI or green screens to be found. In fact, you’ll find few cars at all.
The film is based in California in the early 20th century and follows the life of Daniel Plainview, played superbly by Daniel Day-Lewis (Gangs of New York), as he sets out to lease land for his oil-drilling business in an attempt to make enough money to remove himself from other people.
In its opening minutes, the film covers key moments in Plainview’s life: breaking his leg while working in 1898, and striking oil in an area known as Coyote Hills in 1902.
During these segments, no one speaks a word. The film proves it can tell a story without dialogue-a convention most filmmakers wouldn’t dare employ.
The film settles in the year 1911 after Plainview has established himself as an “oil man.”
He tries to persuade a town to lease its property to him and promises the townspeople that they will reap the benefits of the drilling once he strikes the oil.
Plainview’s charm is on display throughout the film as he appeals to the common interests of the townsfolk he meets. He explains the importance of family and “plain speak” and how he can help the people make money.
But one town, Little Boston, becomes Plainview’s main interest. Town member Paul Sunday, played by Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine), tells Plainview about oil struck within the town and, convinces Plainview to travel to Little Boston to analyze the validity of his claims.
Once Plainview pays Sunday, he moves on from Little Boston and Plainview hones in, leasing nearly all of the property within the area for drilling.
Soon after, Plainview strikes oil.
However, his find is not without consequences. Plainview’s young son, H.W. (played by Dillon Freasier), is on top of the drill rig when oil is struck. The rig catches fire, shooting flames into the sky and rendering young H.W. deaf.
Plainview’s relationship with his son begins to deteriorate after the accident, taking Plainview’s temperament with it.
Sunday’s twin brother, Eli (also played by Dano), is the local pastor at philosophical odds with Plainview, but seeks to make him a member of his church. However, Plainview becomes increasingly belligerent to the idea and eventually attacks Eli after the pastor confronts him about paying the town the money he had promised.
After repeatedly slapping and belittling him, he asks Eli, “Aren’t you a healer?” and tells Eli he will bury him under the ground.
The film actually involves a great deal of slapping (so much so, I was wondering where the blood was and thinking it should be renamed There Will Be Slapping).
And Eli gets his revenge later, embarrassing Plainview after he agrees to accept Jesus Christ in exchange for the lease on a man’s land; the lone holdout in Little Boston. This may be the most powerful moment in the film as Plainview shows how greedy he is, willing to be degraded in front of the town in exchange for his pipeline to the sea.
But his mood continues to deteriorate. He sends his son away to be taken care of and Eli mocks him for abandoning his child. When one businessman tries to buy Plainview out, he tells the man he will “cut his throat” for telling him what to do with his family.
As the film speeds toward its finale, the charm and humor within Plainview have all but vanished. He denounces his son as a “bastard from a basket” he found while drilling after the son tells his father he plans to start his own drilling company.
And Eli, who is still pastor of the church in Little Boston, tries to convince Plainview to return to the town and drill what has not been explored. However, Plainview mocks the desperate pastor again, calling him “afterbirth” and explaining how he has already taken the oil from the land.
There Will Be Blood is visually stunning, taking you through the thick desert lands and giving the illusion that the film was really shot during that time. It appears to have a timeless quality.
And the film succeeds through simplicity and good acting, not goofy gimmicks or overwrought CGI.
The film will do battle at the Oscars with another minimalist film, No Country for Old Men, in most categories, including best picture.
And Daniel Day-Lewis deserves praise. He carries this movie with his misanthropic attitude and view on life.
The film channels greed, murder, hatred and religion in refreshing and creative ways, and those elements are what make it interesting.
If you’re looking for mindless gore you should probably stick with Rambo, but if you want good acting and storytelling, give There Will Be Blood your time.