Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Books And Other Arts Film Review: There Will Be Blood

Movie poster image courtesy of Wikimedia and Grandpafootsoldier

It's been oft-said there is a fine line between genius and insanity. In the 20th century, proof of this was borne out in famous, successful men who ultimately isolated themselves. William Randolph Hearst, Orson Welles (who ironically portrayed a thinly-veiled version of Mr. Hearst in his magnum opus, "Citizen Kane") and Howard Hughes come to mind as examples. The film "There Will Be Blood" offers us yet another similar anti-hero in the character of Daniel Plainview, as portrayed with chilling ardor by Daniel Day-Lewis.

I must confess that I had put off seeing this film because I'm not fond of violence. I have to share this with you, however: there are four deaths in this film and two are accidental. By 21st century American standards, that's not a lot, but it punctuates certain points in the film quite distinctly.

Plainview remains an enigma throughout the film. We first see him working alone, drilling for oil. He successfully finds it and assembles a small crew of men to work with him. We see one of the workmen sometimes carrying a small baby, and are startled to see a child so young in a place so unlikely. A few scenes later we see a little boy accompanying Plainview on a train ride, and learn it's his son, H.W., a bit older now, no longer a baby, and able to take a trip with his dad.

While traveling around the southwest, and making "pitches" to towns to buy their land and drill for oil, Plainview is approached one evening by a young man named Paul Sunday (actor Paul Dano). Paul tells him that for a sum of money, he'll reveal the location of an arid western town that seems to be replete with oil from all outward signs. Plainview and Paul Sunday strike a bargain, settle on a price, and Plainview tells Paul that if his information is false, he'll find Paul and kill him. Day-Lewis' acting skills convince everyone there's no doubt Plainview would do this easily.

Plainview and his son set out for the Sunday ranch in Little Boston, California. It proves to be everything Paul Sunday promised it would. In the guise of hunting, Plainview meets Paul's identical twin, Eli, who plans to follow in the footsteps of his preacher-father. H.W. Plainview finds a kindred spirit in the youngest of the Sunday children, Mary.

Events move quickly and Plainview establishes himself as an oilman in the area deftly and buys up several parcels of land. He assembles a large crew of men to work three producing wells. In a freak accidental explosion, H.W. is injured and becomes permanently deaf. A man named Henry, claiming to be Plainview's half-brother shows up. Eli Sunday and Plainview come to blows over H.W.'s treatment and money Eli claims he is owed by Plainview.

The film captures perfectly a hardscrabble working man's life, but also the single-minded ambition of a maniac. Day-Lewis has beautiful, long-fingered hands, but they're often filthy with oil and dirt in this film. The film was inspired by several sources, the chief among them, the Upton Sinclair book entitled "Oil!". The music, mostly classical, is amazing. At times there are wafting, sweet notes, other times staccato strings of a violin pierce the soundtrack in a stark wail.

If you're looking for a film that's light and frothy, this surely is not it. But if you don't mind gritty and determined, this film's for you.

1 comment:

  1. Oh man, this movie was brutal.
    Daniel Day-Lewis was just brilliant but you are so right, nothing light and frothy about this film .