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‘There Will Be Blood’ Digs, and Finds Riches

By Staff | Feb 29, 2008

What would you do to be a powerful, wealthy person? Set during the early 20th Century, “There Will Be Blood” follows the fortune of Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) as he goes from a physical labor intense, monetary rewards risky silver miner to a prosperous “oil man.” The trip costs him his family, heart and soul.

You’ll find no slick glamour in the emerging oil industry. The owner climbs down into the earth, gets his face, hands and every portion of his body dirty, and wrestles with the ‘negotiation’ for drilling right. The latter make him somewhere on the spectrum of a slick con artist or a smooth talking promises-promises salesman. In either case, he may or may not live up to the bargain that brought him permission to drill.

Persuading simpletons to accept a miniscule amount for a fortune in black gold with a hint of a flim flam carnival rainmaker, Plainview relies on his cute young son by his side to sell a ‘family business’ concept to landowners. This too means cinematic concentration on some of the processes of drill rigging maintained up close and personal by individual laborers.

Based on the novel “Oil” by Upton Sinclair, “Blood” has a religious belief component that substitutes a charismatic tent preacher’s flock for today’s Muslim fundamentalists. The amount of money and power alters lives and personalities; here, the preacher (Paul Dano ) and railroad barons serve as blistering reminders of how false prophets manipulate God’s word for the gain of the head of the church and of a time when Standard Oil and railroad monopolies ruled in place of Arabic cartels.

Day-Lewis ignites and reshapes the character with fertilized zeal, as he moves from an oddly likable, physically laboring workaholic to a bitter, drunken, bulging bank account sarcastic overseer. Without a spoiler insertion, it’s difficult to establish the peak of his downfall, in which he delivers a structured, commanding, emotional melt down.

He laudably offers the humble courtesies and meekness of quail hunter and son, yet diplomatically reveals his oil intentions with his kid as a tool for rendering the trusting allure equated for his work in achieving leases at bargain prices. However, once his son suffers a head injury that results in deafness, he polarizes from any scraps of possibly feigned intimacy in favor of big bucks land, including a dreary, mostly unused stone mansion built in his honor that’s similar to the one of “Citizen Kane.”

His relationship with his son deteriorates from a proud display to overly dotting. You can likely flip a half dollar for a clue to his early sincerity or lack thereof.

Nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, “There Will Be Blood” sets a strong acting standard for the four competing pictures (“Juno,” “Atonement,” “No Country for Old Men,” and “Michael Clayton”). “Blood” does have characterization misfires and leaps. Whether the eluding of citizenry impact of the oil strike is meant to be neutral cannot be determined, as only a very few ‘complain’ about anticipation of greater wealth.

You can easily, though, equate the acceptance of only a few gaining financial substance with the rigid distance between the rich oil barons (still saying their daily prayers) and the impoverished plying a day’s work in the intense desert heat (and saying their daily prayers).

Lastly, the 1900s value of crude oil bubbling out of the California ground alludes to the monopolies like the railroad and Standard Oil, but the director does not slip in any morsels of continuing. Judging solely by the adaptation, some knowledge of history is applicable. And, a big bold warning jolts — Wherever now oil flows, greedy barons come, take the natural resource, and leave the land (and it’s people) with dry wells and ghost towns.

Contact Tony at trutherford@graffitiwv.com