Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"There Will Be Blood"


Well, there's not a lot to spoil, really. Don't get me wrong, the movie had good acting, mostly from Daniel Day Lewis, and the story was somewhat interesting.

But the title of the movie is misleading and the slow, rising tension among the movie's characters and situation that I suspected was building to an oil-blood-gushing conclusion fails to materialize. There is a violent end to the flick, but it's rather anti-climatic.

One of the problem areas to the film is that it contains too many diversions and plotlines largely left hanging or left to end abruptly and unimportantly.

Many of the tensional relationships in the movie also fail to go anywhere. One point of conflict concerns the desire of Daniel Plainview (Lewis) to purchase, or to at least run an oil pipeline through the property bounds of a local, the only villager who hadn't sold out to Plainview when he began drilling in the fictional Little Boston (a geographic anachronism as the story is set in the deserts of California). It appears the hold out is not going to deal and that this relationship will end violently, perhaps setting spark to the movie's cataclysmic finale.

But the hold-out villager is more than willing to deal--provided Plainview gives his heart to Jesus Christ, is baptized, and joins the town's little church.

Ah, the church. The church is led by Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), his name no doubt an allusion to the famous preacher Billy Sunday. You might think Sunday would be a bit young to play the part of charismatic church leader(particularly since Dano was last seen as a rebellious, sullen youth in Little Miss Sunshine). Sunday's aims never seem quite clear. He's quite religious. And he has an obvious interest in the financial stakes involved in his town's oil claims.

But he also has a twin brother, maybe, by the name of Paul. And it was Paul who led Plainview to the town, but who afterwards apparently never reappears, leaving the viewer not sure whether Eli was Paul or what ever happened to Paul anyway. We get some idea of that later in the movie and in the life of Plainview when the aging, ailing oil tycoon refuses to come to Sunday's aid and reimburse him for the oil proceeds the preacher feels is due him in this now, his time of trial. When Dano's Sunday pays his final visit to Plainview 16 years after the movie's main events he doesn't appear to have aged a bit.

And there is a son, or an adopted son of Plainview's, who the oil man takes on when the child's father, a co-worker of Plainview's, is killed in a drilling accident. The boy, H.W., eventually loses his hearing in another oil blast, and after rehabilitating at a deaf-school, presumably in the East, H.W. returns home and later marries a sister of preacher-man Sunday.

In the mix is a Plainview "brother" who comes upon the scene and is taken in by Plainview as an aid-de-camp. But later in a drunken fit of rage, Plainview kills him upon finding out that the man is actually not a brother, or even half-brother, but a friend of a man who claimed to be a brother of Plainview. Too bad, the fake half-brother seemed like a decent, if down-on-his-luck, sort.

Along the way, in perhaps the movie's seminal self-explanatory passage, Plainview tells the fake brother that he doesn't like people much, that he's extremely competitive and only longs to be able to get away from the largest share of mankind.

Among the more interesting aspects of the movie are its first ten minutes or so that contain no talking, and most of which revolve around Plainview's early mining for silver adventures during which he labors mightily to retrieve from the earth the value that will someday provide a suitable return for the time and effort he has put forth to extract it.

That image is symbolic of the movie's viewers, who linger anticipating that the various angles and twists of the movie will lend themselves to a fullfilling return, after months and years of faithful application.

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