- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2008

“There Will Be Blood,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s magnificent and strange new film, delivers on the menacing promise of its title. The early oil business was a dangerous one, and there’s plenty of blood spilled here, but the real fight in this film — a social epic that turns out to be an arresting character study — isn’t between man and man but, rather, between the dueling impulses in a single man’s heart.

Very loosely adapted from Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel “Oil!,” the film follows prospector Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) from the final years of the 19th century to the early decades of the 20th. The first 20 to 30 minutes of the film are mesmerizing.

The sequence, showing Plainview going from a solitary metal miner to Oilman-with-a-capital-O, is virtually wordless, even as he and his men strike oil and a man dies in the process. That dead man leaves a baby, whom Plainview takes as his own.

Cut to 1911, when the bulk of the movie takes place, and that adopted son, H.W. (Dillon Freasier), is 10. Standing expectantly behind his father in a suit and tie, he looks like a miniature but not immature version of him. It is H.W. who will end up paying the price for his father’s great success.

The pair is visited by Paul Sunday (Paul Dano), who for a price reveals that there’s oil sitting on his family’s land. Plainview soon contrives to buy up most of the area at a bargain price, something for which Paul’s twin brother Eli (also Mr. Dano), a young but shrewd Pentecostal preacher, never forgives him.

Don’t get the wrong idea: “There Will Be Blood” isn’t another cliche-ridden exploration of the classic American battle between God and mammon.

Plainview isn’t as greedy as he looks — his insistence on showing Big Oil he can become a tycoon without their buyout shows he’s inspired by more than money. And Eli is no saint — he’s rather too committed to getting oil royalties for his church.

Mr. Anderson’s meticulously crafted film can only be compared to Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk in its ambition. Every element carefully contributes to the haunting mood. Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood has written a startling modernist orchestral score that is as important as Jack Fisk’s production design and Robert Elswit’s cinematography in building the tense emotional atmosphere of the film.

Mr. Day-Lewis brings Plainview magnetically to life in a simply astonishing, Oscar-worthy performance. His sing-song period accent is captivating; he’s charming even when he’s voicing his soul’s deepest dark confessions.

Mr. Dano, last seen as the morose teenager in “Little Miss Sunshine,” puts in an Oscar-caliber performance of his own, burning up the screen in his fire-and-brimstone guise. One of the film’s few missteps is that the powerful Ciaran Hinds (“Rome”) is terribly underused as Plainview’s loyal right-hand man.

This may be a slightly flawed masterpiece — some viewers may not even realize there’s a second Sunday brother — but it’s a masterpiece nonetheless.

****

TITLE: “There Will Be Blood”

RATING: R (some violence)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson based on the Upton Sinclair novel “Oil!”

RUNNING TIME: 158 minutes

WEB SITE: www.paramountvantage.com/blood

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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