- Rated R
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All photos © Paramount Vantage
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
isery may love company, but it loves Oscars even more, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood” is the perfect example. A surefire candidate for several of the year’s major awards, the film doesn’t feature a single uplifting moment throughout its painstakingly long 158-minute runtime. This isn’t exactly new ground for Anderson (in regards to both tone and pace), but the film still represents a major departure for the writer/director, and one that will teach him to be a little less ambitious the next time around. Sorry P.T., but you’re not quite the second coming of Orson Wells.
The film opens in 1898, with Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) desperately mining for gold in the middle of California. What he finds, however, is gold of a different color and texture. Fast-forward 13 years and Daniel is now a successful oil tycoon, roaming the state and buying up land from small-town farmers looking to cash in on the latest economic phenomenon. One day, Daniel is approached by a man claiming his family’s land is sitting over an ocean of oil, and when Daniel goes to investigate, he discovers that the Sunday ranch is indeed bubbling with black gold. Quickly striking a deal with the Sundays, as well as many of the other land owners in the area, Daniel begins to build upon his oil empire with his biggest discovery yet. The Sunday’s evangelical son, Eli (Paul Dano), isn’t as impressed with the wealth the oilman has promised the town, and instead turns to him for help with his church, with which Daniel wants no part. This is only the beginning of Daniel’s problems, however, when an oil rig explosion deafens his son (Dillon Freasier) and a drifter claiming to be his half-brother (Kevin O’Connor) arrives at camp.
Loosely based on the Upton Sinclair novel “Oil!,” Anderson’s film is rooted in the classic battle between capitalism and religion – here signified by oil and blood. At its simplest, however, it's really only about one thing: greed. Luckily, the director has a capable actor in the lead role. Since the film is basically a character study of one man’s lust for power and money, it’s nice to have a guy like Daniel Day-Lewis at your disposal. The once-retired actor commands the screen like few can, and in doing so, transforms a usually stereotypical character into someone with a soul – even if it doesn’t show at times. Daniel Plainview is one-part Charles Foster Kane, one-part Bill “The Butcher” Cutting, an intelligent businessman who isn’t afraid to get down and dirty when the job calls for it.
How fitting, then, that Anderson has created such a formidable opponent for Plainview in the evangelical Eli Sunday, a quiet but passionate man of faith who might even be greedier than the man he despises. Paul Dano continues to surprise me as one of the more mature actors of his generation, and it’s nothing short of amazing to watch him stand toe-to-toe with Day-Lewis. Mark my words: if and when a great Beatles movie is ever made, Dano’s face will surely be found hidden behind a pair of John Lennon specs.
Unfortunately, a movie is only as good as its director, and in this case, Anderson loses sight of the masterpiece he’s created long before the final act begins. It takes a talented person to make a great film, but it takes an even more talented one to know when to say enough is enough. Anderson isn’t that person. In fact, not only does he let his movie drag on far too long, but he includes a final act – detailing Plainview’s senior years living in a Xanadu-esque mansion – that flies so far off the tracks it’ll leave many scratching their heads. The general consensus remains to be a positive one, and I tend to agree, but whether or not the movie scores commercial success fails to change one simple fact: There Will Be Awards.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
Fans of Paul Thomas Anderson are no doubt familiar with the lack of special features that accompany his films on DVDs, and though Paramount was given the chance to remedy this with the release of “There Will Be Blood” on Blu-ray, I’m disappointed to say that it’s nothing more than a carbon copy of the previously released two-disc special edition. Included in the set are three deleted scenes, a montage of pictorial research (“15 Minutes”), and a ruined take (“Dailies Gone Wild”), while the only non-HD extra is a black-and-white silent film chronicling the oil business in the 1920s (“The Story of Petroleum”). If the movie didn’t put you to sleep, then this sorry-ass collection of extras surely will. But look on the bright side: at least it will look (1080p) and sound (5.1 Dolby TrueHD) better than ever before.