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    There Will Be Blood

    Kill drill

    Daniel Day-Lewis's magnificent, sanguine performance as oilman Daniel Plainview is just one of many reasons to catch P.T. Anderson's latest feature.


    Drilling for oil at the turn of the last century was a dirty business and it took a dirty man to do it. Daniel Plainview was such a man: prospector, single father, oilman, entrepreneur, adventurer, heathen, sociopath, and sinner.

    Written and directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson.
    Produced by: Paul Thomas Anderson, Scott Rudin.
    Adapted from Oil! by: Upton Sinclair.
    Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Barry Del Sherman, Paul F. Tompkins, Sydney McCallister, Hans Howes.
    Cinematography: Robert Elswit.
    Edited by: Dylan Tichenor.
    Music by: Jonny Greenwood.
    Production design by: Mark Bridges.
    Art direction by: Mark Bridges.
    Costumes by: Mark Bridges.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    With "There Will Be Blood," writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson has taken Upton Sinclair's novel "Oil!" and turned it into an epic tale of one man's struggle against everybody else. Anderson, the man responsible for the transcendent "Punch-Drunk Love," "Magnolia," and "Boogie Nights," has based his screenplay on another's work for the very first time and as a result "There Will Be Blood" is as far removed from his previous films as it could possibly be. But there are still enough P.T. Anderson flourishes to make his latest project compelling viewing. Those, and a little matter concerning one Daniel Day-Lewis.

    There Will Be Blood  
    As Plainview, Day-Lewis is magnificent, immersing himself in the role so completely as to be scary, from his gait to the tuck of his breeches to the cadence of his speech. Anderson lights him right, gives him big, bushy close-ups (watch his moustache twitch and roil), and allows him huge expanses of Californian terrain to wander through and tear up. Day-Lewis has never been one to attack a role half-heartedly and his Daniel Plainview has got "Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role" written all over it.

    "There Will Be Blood" has an elegant, elegiac look and feel to it, recalling Terence Malick's "Days of Heaven" — the stark frontier towns with their inbred, God-fearing townsfolk, the towering oil derricks dotted about the forbidding landscape, the isolation and bareness of it all. The Malick comparison is not coincidental: "'Blood"'s production designer, veteran art director Jack Fisk (Mr. Sissy Spacek), also worked on "'Heaven," as well as Malick's "Badlands."

      As Plainview, Day-Lewis is magnificent, immersing himself in the role so completely as to be scary, from his gait to the tuck of his breeches to the cadence of his speech.
    It's in 1898 that Plainview first hits pay dirt, going it alone in a mineshaft barely wide enough for one man. The first 15 minutes of the film are dialogue free, underscored — as is the rest of the picture — with discordant harmonics from Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood that grow in intensity and decibel level. Bandying his infant son H.W. around with him to put the locals at ease, Plainview soon switches from ore to black gold, making a name — and a middling fortune — for himself in the process. Some years later word comes down that land rich in oil deposits not currently scouted by Standard Oil can be had for cheap, some six dollars an acre, and before long Plainview owns almost all of Little Boston and becomes a pillar of the community, incurring the rivalry of the local hell bent preacher, Eli Sunday ("Little Miss Sunshine"'s Paul Dano in a creepy, focused turn).

    The relationship between Plainview and Sunday is carried forward through 1911, by which time the bitter, lonely oilman is found wasting away in his decaying Xanadu. The bowling alley climax is bizarre, and pure P.T. Anderson, ending on a note of (false) prophetic realization as far as the sanguine threat of the film's title is concerned. To extend the bowling metaphor further, as the playful Anderson is wont to do, Plainview strikes, and not nobody — Sunday especially — is spared.

    MAY 27, 2008

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