Movie Review: <i>There Will Be Blood</i>

The first 10 or so minutes of the ambitious, ultimately unsatisfying "There
Will be Blood," are wordless, and brilliant. A man (Daniel Day Lewis),
standing alone at the bottom of a dark, vertical mine shaft carved out of the
ground, painstakingly chisels away at the walls in search of precious metals. He
climbs out, falls and injures himself, and with astonishing singlemindedness,
clambers out and crawls away, then repeats that kind of backbreaking work as one
of many workers at an oil shaft. That opening sequence is pretty much all you
need to know about the character, Daniel Plainview: as hard and chiseled as the
ground itself, he's determined and ruthless, even with himself.

Too bad director Paul Thomas Anderson (who also wrote the screenplay, based
loosely on Sinclair Lewis' "Oil!") spends the next two hours and 30 minutes
essentially repeating that message. By the end of the movie, you have zero doubt
that Plainview, who becomes an ultra-wealthy oil baron, is a greedy,
natural-born bastard. But that is about all you get in terms of a story. In
"Blood," though you follow Plainview as he moves to an oil-rich podunk town and
proceeds to buy up all the land and crush everyone from his own son to the
equally arrogant pastor (played by Paul Dano of "Little Miss Sunshine"),
nothing really happens. You leave the theater thinking, "that guy sure was a
jerk, but so what?"

"Blood," which has already landed on several best-of-the-year lists and has
grabbed two Golden Globes nominations, has been compared to "Citizen Kane," the
benchmark portrait of a capitalist pig, but the comparison is a stretch, to say
the least. In "Citizen Kane," the newspaper baron's story was told via
flashback, from the point of view of six people interviewed by a reporter--and
you get a pretty comprehensive arc of a man's life. In "Blood," Daniel Day Lewis
(copping what can only be described as a psychotic captain-of-industry accent)
is in just about every scene, yet there is no arc: just a man trampling on
everyone for money and power. Like most of Anderson's movies, "Blood" is
intriguing in chunks, but never truly masterful.

What you do get is plenty of style, visually stunning scenes like one in
which one of Plainview's oil derricks catches on fire in a spectacular explosion
that leaves his son deaf. As oil gushes from the ground, chased by a single,
mammoth flame, Plainview abandons his terrified son to save what he can from the
fire and then, covered in oil, stare at it for an entire night. It's a
beautifully paced scene bathed in midnight blues and orange glow, and probably
the only scene in which you feel that Plainview, given the chance to care for
his son and ultimately rejecting him, has a chance for a path different from the
one he doggedly follows. You could say the same for director Anderson.

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