It feels kind of weird saying this, but if you really think about it, the great Daniel Day-Lewis could be considered a part-time thespian.
Over the past decade the 50-year-old actor has only appeared in four films, and when he is between projects you rarely see his face on late-night talk shows and his name never appears in the tabloids. Day-Lewis even took time off to work as a cobbler in Italy before Martin Scorsese picked him to play the nefarious Bill the Butcher in "Gangs of New York."
But while Day-Lewis may not have that long of a filmography, whenever he takes on a role you know he is going to inhabit his character and give a rousing performance that will stay in your head long after the closing credits hit the screen. Day-Lewis is one of the few actors left who can successfully disappear into a character and make you forget that he is acting a part because he makes it seem like he really is that person.
And he does the exact same thing in director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood" as Daniel Plainview, a small-time silver speculator who strikes it rich during the petroleum boom in turn-of-the-20th century California. (If Day-Lewis doesn't win an Oscar for his performance there is really something wrong with the Academy voters.)
But don't let the film's name mislead you, it's not really about blood. (Well, there is one shocking moment that includes the red, sticky stuff.) Nope, the movie is actually about another liquid: Oil, that is, black gold, Texas tea. (Anderson loosely based his script on Upton Sinclair's 1927 muckraking novel "Oil!")
At the center of the oil boom is Plainview and his young adopted son H.W. (Dillon Freasier), who was orphaned as an infant when his real father died during a work-related accident. And H.W. turns out to be a valuable asset for Daniel because he is able to use his son as a way to promote himself as a family man running a family business.
After getting a mysterious tip about oil seeping out of the ground in the town of Little Boston, Daniel and H.W. travel halfway across the state to get their hands on the property before any of the big oil companies can. It is in that small community where Daniel crosses paths with Eli Sunday (Paul Dano, who makes a 180-degree turn from his mute character in "Little Miss Sunshine"), a glory hungry preacher who seeks money for his Church of the Third Revelation.
Daniel eventually ends up finding an ocean of oil under Little Boston and he devises a plan to forego any of the shipping costs from the railroads by purchasing hundreds of acres of farmland and building a pipeline to the Pacific Ocean.
But as more and more money rolls in, greed takes over and Daniel starts to lose his sanity. You see, the miserable misanthrope has competition in him and wants no one else to succeed, especially his biggest rival, Eli. The two continually butt heads over the oil under the ground and their differences lead to a good old-fashioned showdown between capitalism and religion.
At approximately 160 minutes, "There Will Be Blood" will probably not be a movie for everyone. The long running time may turn several people away and some could have trouble sitting through the entire movie because there are several scenes that involve little or no dialogue. (Only one word is spoken during the 15-minute opening scene that involves Daniel digging a hole.)
But luckily words are not always necessary in order to tell the story, mostly because of the lively score by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood and the vivid visuals from cinematographer Robert Elswit. The sometimes chilling music sets the mood for almost every scene and the look of the vast oil fields with derricks is nothing short of amazing.
Another gripe people are going to have with the film is its over-the-top ending that takes place in Daniel's Xanadu-type mansion that includes a bowling alley. Much like the title character in "Citizen Kane," Daniel wants to live the remaining years of his life in seclusion, and when he gets a visit from some unexpected guests, "There Will Be Blood" takes quite a bizarre turn.
At first I didn't know if I liked the film's wacky ending, but after giving it some thought I really don't think it could have been written any better. "There Will Be Blood" is basically a character study of a crazy man who teeters on the brink of insanity, and I guess it's only fitting to give his movie an outlandish conclusion. (Plus, Anderson's finale reminds me of something that would come from the mind of Stanley Kubrick, who just so happens to be my favorite director of all time.)
Speaking of Anderson, the fifth feature film from the two-time Academy Award nominee is a complete departure from his previous work, which consists of "Hard Eight," "Boogie Nights," "Magnolia," and "Punch-Drunk Love." That's not a bad thing though, because it seems like the relatively young Anderson is becoming a stronger and more diverse filmmaker as his career progresses.
In fact, when we look back at "There Will Be Blood" decades from now we will probably be saying that the sprawling epic about oil, family, faith, greed and deception is Anderson's crowning achievement. And that's saying a lot.
5 stars (out of 5)
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Next week: "Cloverfield."