There Will be Blood

Last Thursday night I was sitting at the movie theater, waiting to watch Juno, when the manager walked over to ask how my youngest son and I liked There Will be Blood. He's the father of one of my son's friends and we'd explained we were there to watch both films in preparation for casting my vote for the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which was due before noon the following day. He said when he saw the preview for There Will be Blood he wondered who in the world would ever want to go and see it. Who is the target audience?

I told him I'd been curious about it from the moment I discovered it was based on a story by Upton Sinclair called Oil. How do you go from Oil to something that sounds like a summer horror film? How do you take the words of a man who fought for social reform (remember The Jungle?) and make them work as a Hollywood film? Of course we all know that sometimes very little of the source material remains in the finished film, but I was still curious. And when I started hearing that Daniel Day Lewis was giving the performance of his life as the protagonist, oilman Daniel Plainview, I was even more curious.

Daniel Plainview is a driven man; driven by many forces, not least his extreme distaste for his fellow man. With his son H.W. at his side, he sets out to make a fortune in the oil fields, determined to make enough money to insulate him from the rest of humanity, he will do whatever it takes to achieve his goals.

He's dogged at every step by Eli Sunday, brilliantly played by Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine, Fast Food Nation), preacher and faith healer for the Church of the Third Revelation. Eli wants two things, money and power, and believes he can get them both through Daniel, who has promised to donate five thousand dollars to the church once the well he is building on the Sunday property turns a profit. Daniel hates Eli's pious smugness and Eli is equally contemptuous of Daniel's perceived sins; failure to care for his child properly, lack of churchgoing, greed, drinking, etc. The two men clash, often physically, although in an oddly sissy way with a lot of slapping, throughout the entire film, from the moment Daniel appears to purchase the oil rights, straight through to the end of the story.

I had to make several difficult choices this year, including Julie Christie for her phenomenal performance in Away From Her or Ellen Page for her spot-on portrayal of Juno in Juno and, and this one had me hemming and hawing for a good two weeks, Michael C. Hall for his ability to give emotion to the emotionless Dexter or Hugh Laurie for the nuances he gives the title character in House, but choosing Daniel Day Lewis for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role in the Theatrical Motion Pictures category was a no-brainer. He dominated the screen with his charismatic yet creepy persona, talking his way into wealth with a voice we decided sounded like he's been eating butter-coated rocks, gravely yet weirdly smooth. His emotional range is exceptional and he has a terrific opportunity to showcase extremes from murderous rage to humble fatherly pride.

Oddly I've heard several people compare this movie to Citizen Kane, which I don't quite get, although I should say I've never been much of a fan of this classic. I watched it once in film class my freshman year at college and fell asleep halfway through. Every so often I think I really should give it another shot, if just to try and see what everyone else likes about it, but never actually get around to it. Much of the praise I hear for Kane involves innovative camera angles and I didn't notice any in Blood but the use of lighting was very dramatic. Scenes went from very dark, with the sort of browns you'd find in a Victorian library, to very light, as we switch to the California hardscrabble ground that predates the massive irrigation projects that allowed the countryside to turn into an agricultural paradise. The soundtrack was also very powerful, but perhaps too powerful as it really annoyed me from time to time.

To get back to the original question; what did we think of the film, the only thing I could say at the time was "powerful." This is an incredibly powerful movie, with powerful performances and an almost brutal script. I felt weirdly battered and bruised when it was over but I would definitely see it again. It's an extraordinary piece of filmmaking that has the ability to completely sweep you up and carry you off to another time and place. You can find three different trailers here.

One-Paragraph Review
This week's one-paragraph review is from The Final Straw, who doesn't seem very happy with a recent novel from master of horror Dean Koontz. "The Good Guy had an exciting beginning but Koontz's anti-higher education preaching and general whining about how terrible modern life is spoiled the story. He should stick to entertainment and leave the rest to the talk radio hosts." Have you got a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me and I'll run the most interesting ones. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.