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There will be blood & reviews

In 1898 - 1902 Texas, prospector Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) scratches the soil and digs deep holes looking to find his fortune in whatever form there is. Sure enough, he finds it - oil; but as he begins to harvest it, an accident kills one of his workers, leaving behind a baby boy. Daniel brings up the orphan HG (Dillon Freasier), as his own, as he buys up ranches where oil may be found - including the Sunday family ranch, where the young Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) is exciting the faithful & the fearful with his fiery ministry, demanding Daniel be part of it. Daniel is more intent on his ruthless campaign to drive out his competition - whoever it may be. Before long, Daniel is a rich oil man, proud and set in his ways, when a man claiming to be his half brother shows up (Kevin J. O'Connor). As Daniel's wealth grows, so does his isolation from all around him, even his son, and so also grows his vile temper - while his grip on sanity grows weak.

Review by Louise Keller:
Daniel Day Lewis' Plainview, a man who likes to think of himself as an oil man in a family enterprise is an extraordinary creation. The complexity Lewis instills in this softly spoken man who does not like to explain himself is breathtaking. He takes the character from the epitome of restraint and self-control to a man whose dark side devours him in a gluttonous binge of violence. Based on Upton Sinclair's novel about early 20th century oil men enduring the hardships and challenges of survival in California's barren wastelands, this absorbing film from Paul Thomas Anderson is above all, a fascinating portrait of an enigmatic, unfathomable man. Enthralling and compelling, the film is unexpected, profound and ultimately shattering as it canvasses a man's ruthless ambitions.

Anderson's film has the semblance of a saga. When we first meet Plainview, he is a solitary figure doing a solitary job digging for silver and gold in the darkness of an underground mine. We sense his dogged determination as he struggles against the odds. But it is oil that leads him to a direct pathway to success. The opening sequences are strikingly wordless, contrasted by Jonny Greenwood's exceptional music score that becomes one of the film's main characters. It describes the confusion and elation as oil shoots to the night sky; the terror as a young boy loses his hearing and enters into a silent world; the emotional turmoil to meet a brother Plainview did not know he had; a man driven by an unknown force digs a grave in the forest by a small open fire.

Jack Fisk's production design is immaculate, while Robert Elswit's striking cinematography captures the barren landscape. The intricacies of the relationships forged by Plainview form the platform by which we get to know him. All the cast is excellent with special mention to youngster Dillon Freasier, who plays Plainview's adopted son H.G. and Paul Dano (famous for Little Miss Sunshine), whose crazed evangelist Eli Sunday is unforgettable. The story twists and turns relentlessly; with each turn we learn more and more about Plainview, a man who settles old scores, sees the worst in people and has no mercy.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Just when you thought no modern filmmaker would venture into expensive movie making territory with hard core melodrama, along comes Paul Thomas Anderson with a corker. It begins with the title itself, and ends with the music (see later). If there was ever any doubt about the genre of this strangely twisted story, it is dispelled as the end credits roll in old fashioned copperplate-ish text, displaying the actor and character name alongside. As if there were any doubt who it was playing Daniel Plainview, sacrificing not just his left foot but his entire left leg in an opening mining shaft accident. (Not that it seems to have had any long term effect, this broken leg ...)

Daniel Day-Lewis makes a meal of this monster-in-the-making, genetically competitive, secretly in loath with humanity, driven by disgust at mankind - and womankind, too, no doubt, since he never associates with women, not even the cheap whores of the Texan plains. This is a force 10 gale of a performance from Day-Lewis, muscular, visceral, venomous and restrained all at once if you can imagine that. As his oil wealth increases so his sanity decreases; there is a touch of the Howard Hughes about him by the end, a reclusive loony whose financial empire suddenly seems worthless.

Young Dillon Freasier is a wonderful surprise as young HG, whose life is dramatically changed several times, beginning with his being orphaned, ending with his being orphaned - again. But for sheer creepy, you can't do better than Paul Dano as Eli Sunday, whose irresistible force as the young minister in the Church of the 3rd Revelation (don't ask) meets the immovable object of Daniel Plainview. It is a titanic clash of souls and wills, which plays out with a sardonic, ironic melodrama that underpins the film's final act.

The film is technically superb in every department, but it does drag at times (160 minutes!) and the unlikeable, distant nature of the central character tends to make it more an exercise in observation than in emotional engagement. But that's the material. The intrusive score adds its own melodramatic throbbing to the film's pulse, changing abruptly at end credits into an orchestral knees-up quite at odds with the rest of the musical tone. It might have been even more apt if it went fully baroque.

Courtesy Urban Cinefile


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