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There Will Be Blood (6/10)

by Tony Medley

Well, if there will be, you have to be patient. This is yet another example of a writer-director (Paul Thomas Anderson) so in love with his far too long script that he couldnít cut a sentence or even an adverb when he donned his directorís hat. In my mindís eye, I can see him sitting in his directorís chair, constantly saying, ďwhat a great line!Ē

The film is loosely based on Upton Sinclairís novel, Oil, published in 1927. Sinclair was a muckraker who founded the California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. As such, he was a man who didnít let facts interfere with his point of view. As a case in point, after he published Oil, he wrote Boston in 1928, which was a spirited defense of the notorious anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, who were convicted of murder. Sinclairís book argued vociferously for their innocence, despite the fact that Sinclair later admitted that he had been told in confidence by Fred Moore, the attorney for Sacco and Vanzetti, that they were guilty and their alibis phony.

Anderson, whose previous films have been well-nigh interminable, like Boogie Nights (1997) at 2 hours 36 minutes and Magnolia (1999) at 3 hours 8 minutes(!) shows that he still doesnít recognize a stop sign when he sees it by making this drag on for 2 hours 38 minutes.

To set the stage for what is a long sit, the film starts out without a word being spoken for about 15 minutes. Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis) is an oil man who finds and drills for oil. He is tipped by Paul Sunday (Paul Dano) to a large field owned by Paulís family, so Daniel goes north into the hinterlands and scams the Sunday family out of their oil. Paulís brother, Eli, (also played by Dano in an ill-advised ploy by Anderson that is pretty confusing when the viewer sees him with another name) is a preacher who is apparently only interested in getting money for his church, although he turns out to be a petty hypocrite, and immediately enters into conflict with Daniel.

Danielís son, H.W. (Dillon Freasier), is his constant companion. But, alas, things go wrong and Daniel doesnít react rationally or with much compassion, if any. Throughout, Anderson makes his protagonist, Daniel, a stark-raving lunatic. Daniel admits later in the film that his life is based on hate, but itís never explained why, which is a major shortcoming of the film. This is a character study, a film without a plot. How are we to even begin to understand the character if we donít know what could have caused him to be such a maniac?

Day-Lewis gives a spirited performance, which is worth seeing. Whether itís histrionic or award-quality has to be up to the viewer. Heís burdened by a strange script that doesnít really allow the audience to know what makes this guy tick. The way he acts is without explanation or reason. When Daniel isnít trying to charm people or being incredibly brutal to them, there are lots of shots of people getting covered in oil. That about sums up this film; Daniel being a charming salesman; Daniel being insanely brutal; people covered in oil.

 

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