'Blood' strikes it rich with plot
Published: Friday, January 18, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 17, 2008 at 4:59 p.m.
'There Will Be Blood," Paul Thomas Anderson's epic American nightmare, arrives belching fire and brimstone and damnation to Hell. Set against the backdrop of the Southern California oil boom of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, it tells a story of greed and envy of biblical proportions.
There Will Be Blood
CAST: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier
THEATER: Butler Plaza
Anderson opens his story in 1898. And the film's opener is a stunner - spooky and strange, blanketed in shadows and nearly wordless. Inside a deep, dark hole, a man pickaxes the hard-packed soil like a bug gnawing through dirt.
Over the next two and a half mesmerizing hours Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) will strike oil, then strike it rich and transform a bootstrapper's dream into a terrifying prophecy about the coming American century. It's a century he plunges into slicked in oil, dabbed with blood and accompanied by H.W. (newcomer Dillon Freasier), the child who enters his life after he makes his first strike. The brief scenes of Plainview's first tender, awkward moments with H.W. will haunt the story.
"There Will Be Blood" involves a tangle of relationships. But it is Plainview's intense bond with H.W. that raises the stakes and gives enormous emotional force to this expansively imagined period story with its pictorial and historical sweep, its raging fires, geysers of oil and inevitable blood.
A large swath of the story takes place in 1911, by which point Plainview has become a successful oilman with his own fast-growing company. He storms through California, sniffing out prospects and trying to persuade frenzied men and women to lease their land for drilling. One day the young Paul Sunday (Paul Dano), arrives with news that oil is seeping out of the ground at his family's ranch. The stranger sells this information to Plainview, who promptly sets off to a stretch of California desert.
Not long afterward oil is gushing out of that desert. The eruption rattles both the earth and the local population, whom Plainview soothes with promises. Poor, isolated, thirsting for water, the dazed inhabitants gaze at the oilman like hungry baby birds. He promises schools, roads and water.
Plainview is preaching a new gospel, though one soon challenged by another salesman, Paul Sunday's Holy Roller brother, Eli (also Dano). A charismatic preacher looking to build a new church, Eli slithers into the story, one more snake in the desert.
This is Anderson's fifth feature and it proves a breakthrough for him as a filmmaker. His first feature, "Sydney," showed Anderson to be an intuitively gifted filmmaker. His subsequent features - "Boogie Nights," "Magnolia" and "Punch-Drunk Love" - have ambition and flair.
"There Will Be Blood" exhibits much the same qualities as Anderson's previous work. It flows smoothly, linearly, building momentum and unbearable tension. Day-Lewis seems to have invaded Plainview's every atom, filling an otherwise empty vessel with so much rage and purpose you wait for him to blow.
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