[Screen It]

(2007) (Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano) (R)

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Drama: A charismatic but antisocial man must contend with various obstacles as tries to build his business and turn himself into an early 20th century oil tycoon.
Years after accidentally discovering oil while prospecting for silver at the turn of the 20th century, the charismatic yet antisocial Daniel Plainview (DANIEL DAY-LEWIS) has made a tidy profit for himself, yet yearns for even more. With the aide of employees such as Fletcher Hamilton (CIARAN HINDS), and using his own adopted son, H.W. (DILLON FREASIER), as a family-friendly prop to convince land owners to sell to him, Daniel is looking to turn himself into an oil tycoon and thus compete with the likes of Standard Oil.

His latest project is in a small California town where young evangelical preacher Eli Sunday (PAUL DANO) holds sway over the residents. The two men clash over what they believe in, but share the similarity of using manipulation to gain more power for themselves.

As Daniel contends with him, an injury to H.W., and the arrival of Henry Brands (KEVIN J. O'CONNOR) who claims he's his half-brother and wants a job, the oil man attempts to buy land in order to build a pipeline that will carry his product to the sea and thus allow him to undercut his competition.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
With gasoline at or near record high prices, it's little surprise that oil is on most everyone's mind nowadays, from those who run OPEC to the big corporations who refine and sell it, as well as politicians who are getting an earful from consumers not happy about the cost of getting around.

Of course, this isn't the first and likely isn't the last time petroleum will be in the news. Long ago, it was deemed a good thing and turned prospectors into legends of American industry as oil supplanted a certain shiny element as the next huge rush for striking it rich. That took a decidedly comedic turn in the 1960s when some local yokels from Appalachia ended up moving to a tony California neighborhood following the discovery of crude while out shooting for some food.

With oil now viewed as a necessary evil, however, it isn't surprising that the goofy charm of "The Beverly Hillbillies" has been replaced by the cynicism, greed and ruin found in "There Will Be Blood." A powerful and poetically vibrant piece that's one of the best of 2007, the film is based on Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel "Oil!" and spans a number of decades back when oil was literally and figuratively as good as gold.

Purposefully devoid of any dialogue for the first several minutes, the offering is a pure and terrific example of the definition of a movie -- a story told with moving pictures. In fact, you could watch the entire pic with no sound and easily follow and understand most if not everything that transpires in the 160-some minute runtime, all thanks to exemplary work in front of and behind the camera.

While I was in the minority believing that director Paul Thomas Anderson was sliding backwards in quality following his breakthrough hit "Boogie Nights" ("Magnolia" and "Punch-Drunk Love" followed that), he's not only knocked another one out of the ballpark, but has pretty much reinvented himself in terms of directorial style and technique, showing a maturity I feared might not ever arrive.

Of course, he gets plenty of help from cinematographer Robert Elswit who delivers some of the most striking images of the year, as well as composer Jonny Greenwood whose powerful chords only further enhance and strengthen the material. His ace in the hole, however, is Daniel Day-Lewis who once again creates a powerfully indelible character that's now added to his increasingly remarkable repertoire.

The camera loves this man's expressions and how he carries his character, and to corroborate the earlier assertion, his acting is so good and convincing that sound isn't needed to grasp, be engaged with, or be shocked by what occurs. All of which makes Anderson's terrific dialogue for Day-Lewis all the more like icing on this sumptuous cinematic cake. The result is a pitch-perfect performance that all but assures the actor of being rewarded not in oil, but the aforementioned gold, albeit in the form of an awards season statuette.

The portrayal of the man, his mission, and the bygone era in which he was operating is brilliant, but it's his interaction with others that makes the film so riveting. While the always good Ciaran Hinds gets shortchanged in a supporting bit that doesn't really amount to much (and makes one wonder if some of the better material had to be jettisoned for time, artistic choice or whatnot, others in the film dutifully take up the slack.

The relationship between Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis) and his son (first played by Dillon Freasier and then later by Russell Harvard) is extraordinary in the way it slowly evolves or, more accurately, dissolves as the protagonist's mindset, motives and more are slowly but surely revealed. The effect is heartbreaking in terms of the involved ruthlessness.

Although it doesn't initially seem to be the case, a somewhat more even battle develops between the main character and a young, evangelical minister played by Paul Dano. While a man of God, Eli Sunday is also calculating and even ruthless in what he wants, and the ensuing and progressively escalating confrontation between the two characters is nothing short of cinema at its scintillating best.

Striking in a number of memorable ways and featuring a title that thematically works on various levels, "There Will Be Blood" exists in the sort of movie vein not often seen nowadays. With or without the accompanying dialogue (although it's even better with the latter, especially when deliciously rolling out or spewing forth from the lead's mouth), the effort is impressive from start to finish. While it likely won't make you feel any better about those who pull the strings and profit from oil, it should if you're desirous of terrific movie-making. The film rates as an 8 out of 10.

Reviewed December 3, 2008 / Posted January 4, 2008

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