If you’re an action junkie, need stupid humor or steamy jazz numbers to get you enticed into watching a movie, then “There Will Be Blood” is not for you. The movie’s 17-minute opening sequence uses no dialogue while showing a stern prospector wiggling his way out of a hole in which he’s lit a piece of dynamite. This scene not only hints this is a character-driven film but also emphasizes that Daniel Plainview, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, will do anything to find something of value - even risk his own life.
Truthfully, this epic, based on Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel “Oil!” is about the oil boom in turn-of-the-century California and pits big business against a man who dreams large, boasts a smile as genuine as a blonde with a bleach job and a demeanor like the shell of an armadillo. After the opening segment, the movie transitions to a few years ahead when Plainview is running his own company, drilling for oil and sweeping across California to connive people out of their oil rights. He sweet talks them and puts on a good show with his small son, H.W. (Dillon Freasier), whose mother supposedly “died at birth.”
Plainview gets a visit from a young cocky man telling him there’s oil on his family’s property. Paul Sunday (Paul Dano) offers to tell Plainview where the property is for a sum of money. As one rat can smell another, Plainview immediately sizes up the brazen young man. To sniff out the property in Little Boston, Plainview and H. W. find the ranch, pretend to be quail hunting and ask Abel Sunday (David Willis) if they can camp out on his land.
At dinner that night with the Sunday family, there’s no sign of Paul, but his twin brother,Eli, squares off with Plainview as an adversary in what will be a battle of wills lasting throughout the movie. Eli is the charismatic preacher who oversees his holy roller church, and Dano (“Little Miss Sunshine”) plays him like a harp luring in one unsaved soul after another.
The film does an excellent job of showing how difficult the oil business was. With bare essentials the rigs would be constructed and the drilling started, but it was a dangerous job where accidents occurred frequently, often with disastrous results. Major oil fires and personal injuries were not uncommon. In the film, the Little Boston oil derrick blows so hard it throws onlooker H. W. off his perch and makes the boy deaf.
Plainview has already admitted, “I don’t like people,” and this unfair incident that places more of a burden on his shoulder than any advantage he can think of, does not make him happy. He eventually sends H. W. off to a deaf school, and then gets even more outrageous in his treatment of others. He greets every day like a ravenous dog, devouring anyone in his way of obtaining more land and more oil wells.
As taunt and hauntingly riveting as writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s script is - and it’s so bizarre there are some laughs evoked - this movie could never reach the depths it does without Daniel Day-Lewis (“Gangs of New York”) as its lead. Almost reincarnating noted director John Huston in both voice and mannerism, Day-Lewis could have done nothing more to be worthy of an Oscar.
Dano said about working with Day-Lewis, “He blew my mind consistently. I would say daily, ‘I don’t know where the stuff that comes out of him comes from,’ but it’s an amazing mystery.”
Despite everything “There Will Be Blood” (which is on my Top 10 of the year) has going for it, there are two things I didn’t like about this movie. The score annoyed me terribly. I saw the movie twice, and the first time it kept taking me out of the film with those repetitious long moments of irritating sounds. I was also disappointed in the ending of the film. Although fitting in with Plainview’s manner, it wasn’t a satisfying finish for me.
Ever since the poison apple fell from the tree eons ago, power has always been a force men will kill to obtain. For Plainview, his veins might as well have been filled with crude oil, for he never got the taste out of his mouth. In more ways than one, “There Will Be Blood” shows that for him, that toxic dream became all too vivid.