Oil and Blood

by Alan Rapp on April 8, 2008

in Home Video

  • Title: There Will Be Blood
  • IMDB: link

there-will-be-blood-dvdWriter/director Paul Thomas Anderson‘s adaptation of the Upton Sinclair novel Oil! earned well deserved praise in its release last Oscar season.  Anchored by an astounding leading performance by Daniel Day-Lewis and some terrific cinematography it was one of the best films of 2007.

The film centers around oil man Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) in the early 1900’s.  Plainview is a model capitalist, ruthless and a tad crazy.

After a prolonged opening sequence involving Plainview’s discovery of oil and his transformation from a silver prospector to an oil speculator the film moves to the town of Little Boston, California.  His attempts to buy the land hit a snag from the local preacher/prophet Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) who begins a behind-the-scenes battle of wills with the oil man.

Daniel Day-Lewis is terrific as Plainview, and well deserving of the Oscar he won for Best Actor.  The film is centered around his wonderful performance, which is a good thing because the story itself isn’t that interesting.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed the film I have many nagging issues which I’ll discuss here.  To do so I’ll have to give a small bit of the plot away, so for those who haven’t seen the film yet you might want to skip down to the DVD Diagnosis.

The film includes sub-plots involving a young boy (Dillon Freaser) Plainview takes as his own son and the arrival of a long-lost brother (Kevin J. Connor).  Although the H.W. storyline works well, for the most part (although it is never really resolved – even in the epilogue), the brother storyline is simply a mess.  The film goes to great trouble to showcase the ruthlessness of Plainview and the arrival of a hanger-on will no doubt lead to the expected end.  However the film undercuts the violent confrontation by revealing the man to be a scam-artist and not his real brother.  This twist is not only unnecessary, it’s lame.  There is no doubt the man presented in the film would take strong, violent, and final action against anyone (kin or no – as in his abandonment of his son) and had he taken vengeance on his own family the emphasis of the moment would mean much more.

The film begins with an extended silent sequence of Plainview’s early attempts at oil extraction.  Although terrifically filmed and acted the scene is too long, does almost nothing to further the plot, and isn’t really necessary.  There are many (all shorter) sequences throughout the film which give the audience as much, if not better, sense of drilling for oil and the dangers involved including H.W.‘s accident, the fire, and one of the workers being impaled by the equipment.  Is it a really cool scene?  Sure, but it’s also more than a little self-indulgent.

The film includes two terrific scenes involving Dano and Day-Lewis which are basically mirror images of the same disagreement (the later includes the oft-quoted milkshake line).  Aside from this however the writing itself does not stand-out in any way, though it is constantly elevated by the performances.  So what we have is a single scene flip-flopped which contains almost every great moment (aside from the cinematography and the leading performance) of the entire film.  Yes these scenes are great, but how about spreading some of that magic throughout the rest of the film?

I have a bit of a pet peeve against films which take place in one time period and then tack on a “twenty-years later” epilogue.  I think it’s simply bad writing if the script can’t satisfy the needs in the original time-frame or if the writer and director can’t find a way to make the passage of time part of the film instead of jumping ahead willy-nilly.  The film contains just such an ending, which is necessary because it contains one of the two best scenes of the film, without which the film does not succeed.

On a finally note, I was not a fan of the jarring monotone score used throughout the film which is more distracting, especially in early scenes, than complimenting to the story.  I suppose it’s an attempt to be haunting, but for me it was simply annoying.

There Will Be Blood is over-long, drawn-out, pretentious, and self-indulgent.  It’s also a hell of a film.  I appreciate the work and effort that went into such an unlikely story, and given time I might even warm-up to that score.  Even with it’s flaws, which can be forgiven with it’s style and tremendous lead performance, there’s plenty here worth savoring.  Although I would stop short of calling the film a classic, I would agree it is the quality of film which deserves to be watched, discussed, picked-apart, and appreciated.  Even though I’ve bloodied my hands a bit in the review (pun intended), it’s still an easy recommendation to make and an extremely good film for those patient enough to sit through its entirety and enjoy some great acting and pretty good filmmaking.

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