Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 23 November 2008
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
There Will Be Be Blood
Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
“I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people.”
So declares oil baron Daniel Plainview, (Daniel Day-Lewis (DDL), a ruthless uber-capitalist who will have oil at any cost, as if it belongs to him by divine right. He will compromise long held beliefs, say anything, even forsake his own son to coax black, flammable liquid out of the ground. .
His quiet venom is only mildly disguised by courtly, Yankee-accented speech and the pretense of manners. Make no mistake; Plainview will slap you into the very oil you signed away to him if crossed.
Son H.W., (Dillon Freasier) along on Plainview’s exploits since infanthood - when he was kept in a wooden box as a makeshift crib - is a silent witness to it all, absorbing paternal knowledge like an organic sponge. Descending on the small goat-farming community of Little Boston, California, the two scour the land (on a tip from a local seeking payment for the information) and find oil practically flowing from every furrow of the earth.
Soon Plainview is buying up the entire community, starting with the Sunday family ranch. The local folk are no match for this human derrick, pumping them for rights to their land, laughing at their stupidity.
Weak patriarch Abel Sunday (David Willis) easily succumbs to the newcomer; son Eli, (Paul Dano) a preacher of the Church of the Third Revelation, is wary of the godless stranger. Plainview is capitalism; Eli Sunday is religion. Each man appears to take opposing roads but their paths will intersect quite often. While Sunday secretly lusts after fortune, Plainview is no such hypocrite. He wants the wealth that oil can bring, out in the open and in plain view so to speak, but can’t be counted on to keep his word. The two clash throughout the film in startling, sometimes violent ways; the king of profit vs. the false prophet who’d gladly - but not admittedly - trade places with him.
A derrick explosion deafens H.W. and Plainview sends him away, having no use for a defective child. Guilty and defensive, Plainview becomes even more grasping and belligerent in his dealings with oil executives and holdouts who won’t sell him land rights without exacting moral acrobatics from him. An innocuous suggestion about his son’s care from a well-meaning oil executive elicits several death threats from Plainview, who is combustible himself; that makes him dangerous in any oil field. A scene in which Plainview pretends to confess his sins in Eli’s church crackles with tension. All this just to win rights to the last parcel of land needed for a crucial pipeline. Such is Plainview’s single-mindedness.
Plainview’s long lost half-brother, Henry (Kevin J. O’Connor) shows up and elicits nothing but distrust. Deceit seems to be in the air and Plainview accepts it and learns to breathe it in and spit it back out with fierce enjoyment. Henry does not flourish in Little Boston, California. Plainview, however, maneuvers and manipulates his way into millions with a smirk, a signature and a handshake.
Years pass and the obscenely wealthy Plainview, now in a mansion with servants and, improbably, a bowling alley, presides like Scrooge in darkened rooms with large desks and no hint of mellowing. There is still money to be made, rights to be held, upstarts to smash. Life can still be a glorious race to riches, strewn with the bodies of competitors in one’s wake.
Over the course of 30 years, Plainview morphs from mountain-man silver miner to oil baron with no mercy in sight for those in his way. There is no honor in having an honest son. Most abhorrent to Plainview, the now grown H.W. (Russell Harvard) is a good and decent man, recently married and wanting to strike out on his own into the oil business. H.W. is just more competition, written off and banished by Plainview without a second thought. A final visit by Eli Sunday brings that long, tense relationship to a head, once and for all.
Loosely based on the 1927 novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair, There Will Be Blood is saturated with DDL’s riveting countenance as a shifty-eyed embodiment of greed wrapped in a polite demeanor and shaky logic. You won’t want to remove your eyes from his mesmerizing performance, astonishing in its ability to convey cinematic greatness without one bit of likeability.
Paul Dano’s saintly countenance masks Eli’s money lust and his low key performance nails the nuances of saintly hypocrisy. Dillon Freasier is arresting as the stoic, angry young son, disabled by his father’s exploits.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia) accurately recreates an era with the help of a splendid cast and crew and special collaboration with DDL, who based his performance on legendary oilman Edward Doheny, researching the history of the man for clues to motivation and mannerisms. Striking cinematography evokes a long-gone period in the history of a relatively young United States.
“Greed [for lack of a better word] is good,” declared Gordon Gekko in the 1987 film Wall Street. DDL’s superb portrayal of Daniel Plainview shows us that greed can also be a lifestyle, one where there will be blood. What there won’t be is any kind of conscience.