There will be blood. You bet there will be.

There Will Be Blood

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            “There Will Be Blood.” You bet there will be – metaphorical, emotional, and actual blood. The movie builds relentlessly on its own unpleasantness until we want to scream, or at the very least, to strangle Daniel Day Lewis. This fine actor, with measured tones and a certain formality, covers his role with a theatrical veneer that seems an odd conceit for the California oil days of the early 1900s. He overwhelms the movie with his performance until we watch him instead of the story.

            Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is an angry brute infected by a viral fusion of narcissism and greed, a man so self absorbed that he hates all people and wants to know no one. His self-hatred literally eats him away until he becomes a victim of his own brutality. He is mad, it seems clear, from the first scene forward.

            This is a man clawing at the soil in his search for oil. Finding it, (in 1902), he improvises primitive wooden tools to build the tower that will usher his strike into the sky. With his young son by his side to pave his way to buying up ranches for the oil beneath them, Daniel builds his oil fields, his pipeline, and his fortune leaving a string of victims in his path.

            Daniel rids himself of the people he meets with such dispatch that only one other character is fully fleshed out. This is Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), an evangelist preacher whose family falls victim to Daniel’s greed. Eli is Daniel’s equal in sick nastiness, and throughout the movie the two trade moments of sadistic revenge. Neither is to be trusted for a moment. If we didn’t sense this for ourselves, the score tells us so. The innovative electronic music, by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, drills itself into our heads for well over two hours – an announcement that there will be no redemption in this movie.

            In most portraits of naked ambition and greed, the protagonist interacts at least with lovers or competitors. Not here. Daniel simply sweeps away ordinary men and beats the big ones (Standard Oil) at the bargaining table. This is a man who knows he will hate every person he meets. “I want no one else to succeed. I don’t like people.” Both the oil driller and the preacher are madmen without redeeming features. There is no doubt that they deserve each other.

            Be assured that the movie has been written and directed with great skill and imagination by Paul Thomas Anderson. Filmed in near darkness and scored to spook us, it is a strange concoction. There is no subtlety or complexity in Daniel Day Lewis’s one note role. The big question is whether you really want to see a portrait of unrelieved mental illness created by a good actor who has immersed himself thoroughly in a character he loves playing. Unfortunately, he seems to love it to the point of self-indulgence.

 


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