THERE WILL BE BLOOD written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, based on the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair, with Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano and Kevin J. O’Connor. A Paramount Vantage release. 158 minutes. Opens Friday (January 4). Rating: NNN
One of the most-anticipated films of 07, There Will Be Blood will surely line up for a slew of gold statues come Oscar time. So why don’t I like it?
The fact that it runs 158 minutes and is as elegiac as a Leone western will test the patience of filmgoers who require at least a few orcs and a hobbit or two to see them past the two-hour mark. But that’s not it. I was bored by the Rings, orcs and all, yet was taken by this story of a wildcatting oil tycoon set in California during the early decades of the 20th century, based on the Upton Sinclair novel Oil!
John Harkness, my esteemed late colleague at NOW, was supposed to write this review. He was a great champion of director Paul Thomas Anderson and thought There Will Be Blood was his best film, no minor accomplishment for the man who made Boogie Nights and Magnolia.
I have some idea what he would have said. He would have used words like “brilliant” and “masterful,” while drawing comparisons to the work of Ford and Griffith, to Citizen Kane and Giant, perhaps to Days Of Heaven and McCabe & Mrs. Miller. And being a man of letters, John almost certainly would have touched on Melville’s Moby Dick, as Daniel Day-Lewis’s Daniel Plainview is as much akin to Ahab as he is to Charles Foster Kane.
I can argue with none of that – to a point.
Day-Lewis gives a bravura performance full of anger and cunning and danger and, above all, ambition. Yet there’s something obvious about it, as there is about this entire film. You can see Day-Lewis acting; by the end, his gruff yet lyrical John Huston-like inflections erupt geyser-like into a great spewing mess of an impersonation that gushes as far over the top as any oil well.
Same with PTA’s direction. There Will Be Blood is his Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, and you can see him steering the story with long tracking shots across vast, still landscapes. Yet for all its visual openness, this portrait of a man driven mad by his own anger and ambition is as claustrophobic and myopic as any mine shaft.
Given all the time spent in Plainview’s company – almost every frame – I wish PTA, who adapted the novel for the screen, and Day-Lewis had dug deeper into the character’s motivations.
What drives this mercenary man to come to blows with almost everyone around him, notably his own son (Dillon Freasier) and the religious prophet Eli (Little Miss Sunshine’s Paul Dano, who has to struggle to hold the screen in Day-Lewis’s fierce presence)?
We’re left with the ground seepage and fool’s gold, the kind that plates Academy Awards statues. There is so much to admire in every frame, yet very little to actually love.