Guest Author - Peggy Maddox
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson (Based on Oil by Upton Sinclair)
Main Cast Members
Daniel Day-Lewis: Daniel Plainview, a driven misanthrope who makes a fortune by drilling oil and cheating landowners. His devouring hatred of humanity is never explained.
Dillon Freasier: H.W., the boy who accompanies Plainview as he persuades landowners to lease him their land for oil exploration.
Paul Dano: Paul Sunday, the son of a religious fanatic who beats his daughter if she refuses to pray. Paul seeks out Plainview to tell him about the oil on his father's land. Having done so and being paid for his information, he disappears from the story.
Paul Dano: Eli Sunday, Paul's religious brother. He heads the Church of the Third Revelation whose congregation is made up of the landowners Plainview is exploiting. Eli is as greedy and as ruthless as Plainview, but his area of exploitation is religious prophecy. He becomes a successful radio evangelist.
Sydney McCallister: Mary Sunday as a child. She grows up to marry H.W.
Kevin J. O'Connor: Henry, Plainview's long-lost half brother.
I've not seen any previous film made by Daniel Day-Lewis. When I watched There Will Be Blood I didn't know that I was supposed to be overwhelmed by his acting. Certainly his portrayal of mad man Daniel Plainview maintains its maniacal intensity from start to finish, but until I watch Gangs of New York or My Left Foot, I have nothing to compare it to.
The fact that I watched the movie in several sessions is evidence that I found it less than gripping. Many of the scenes are dimly lit, showing Plainview and other characters in shadow or covered in dirt or oil. The sequence of the burning oil derrick is spectacular and may be the reason Robert Ellsworth won an Oscar for best cinematography, although I expect much of it was achieved with digitalized effects.
There Will Be Blood is loosely based on the 1927 novel Oil by Upton Sinclair.
As Sinclair wrote after seeing the first film made from one of his novels,
"it is the amiable custom of the film producers ... to take an author's name and the title of his book, and then write an entirely different story of their own, which they think will please the public better."
In the case of the film based on Oil, Director Anderson changed the title as well as the story.
In the novel the father and son--James Arnold Ross senior and junior--are in a mutually loving relationship from beginning to end. The conflict between them arises as the son-- in the novel the point of view character--rejects the business tactics that enrich a few and devastate the lives of the many.
Setting aside as irrelevant the fact that it is not faithful to its source, what are the qualities of There Will Be Blood that garnered it eleven Academy Award nominations and two Oscars?
According to a commentator on the IMDb website, viewers either love this movie or despise it. I can't say that I despise it, but I certainly don't see what all the fuss was about.
I suppose I relate to a movie most easily when I can identify with one or more of the characters. In order to do that, I have to know something about them. Ideally they will share my ideas of right and wrong, but even if they are outside the law, I can still find some measure of empathy for the criminal who has some code of honor, no matter how skewed: for example, Leon in Besson's The Professional, or even the relentless assassin in No Country for Old Men.
There Will Be Blood is devoid of characters to relate to. The two main ones, Plainview and Eli, are evil, deranged men who exploit people the way oil barons exploit natural resources. The little boy H.W. is as inscrutable as Plainview. When the grown up H.W. confronts Plainview and tells him that he loves him, one can only exclaim "Huh?!" The film-maker has shown us nothing to lend any credibility to the statement.
No Country for Old Men is implacably cruel, but I get it. I watched it reluctantly, prepared to hate it and came away an admirer. It's savagely violent, but it is art and it says something worth saying.
There Will Be Blood is an ugly film with no redeeming story, theme, or point. It's as if its only reason for being is to provide a platform for Daniel Day-Lewis's impersonation of John Houston.
Hmm. Maybe I do despise it.
While I'm at it, the musical score, which got an Academy Award nomination, sounds as if it were pieced together for some other purpose, and, other than the title, the Gothic lettering on the credits is impossible to read.