Director/screenwriter Paul Thomas Anderson has chosen an highly selective adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s novel, Oil, for the derivation of his movie, There Will Be Blood. Many understandable reasons could be behind his “selection” process, since Sinclair wrote all his novels with specific people and places in mind. If one tries to more closely determine, for instance, just who might biographically fit the lead character portrayed by the role of Daniel Plainview (given incredible depth by the performance of Daniel Day-Lewis,) that determination is obscured both by the accounts found of Union Oil of California and by personal accounts of the California oilmen of the period. Given that Plainview is portrayed as the visionary first offering Union, in its close competition with Standard Oil, a pipelined supply from an extensive oil field inland to its Pacific coast refinery; this problem seems odd. Perhaps the couple of gratuitous homicides in the storyline help account for that.
But what of the type of man to persist through such hardships, resisting the easy money offers from Standard Oil, holding his fellow man up to impossible standards while judging him with implacable hatreds? Are these too much in-common with entrepreneurs and who else might we include in such a profile? Yes, it might not be very “safe” to be more than vague sometimes, to trade artistic subtleties for the kind of “yellow journalism” muckrakers such as Upton Sinclair, even the great novelist, Sinclair Lewis had been accused of being. And Mr. Anderson does, I suspect, want to get this pig to market. The movie well justifies the effort. The incomparable performance Day-Lewis gives is a large part of that. Of course his defining performance in Gangs of New York, made his choice for the role a casting director’s dream.
Paul Dano’s performance as megalomaniac preacher, Eli Sunday, is expressive of his gifts as a young up and coming star. From his flights of messianic fancy to his final (and ultimate) demeaning at the hands of Plainview, Dano grants his role both depth and flair needed to be able to fully assume its characterization so directly across from such a powerhouse as his nemesis, Daniel Plainview. Any less service to this role and its credibility would have been threatened.
Ultimately, credit must be given to directing choices and scene lay-outs employed in this period movie. From the details shown of cable drilling, to the very specific and stylized application of terminology (such as “earthquake oil”) There Will Be Blood respects authenticity. The light reference Plainview makes to having been with the US Geological Survey is just one of the very enriching details chosen to help make this film’s viewing an in-depth affair.
The moments of Plainview’s voicing his contempt for mankind are on par with the asides of Richard III, Hamlet, and Macbeth. In realizing that all who place the object of pursuit of power above all else are running the same risks, that of dehumanizing themselves from the ranks of mankind, through such illustrations art reaches its highest level…that of moral instruction.
Nothing is needed more today.
A movie this reviewer would encourage all but the very youngest to see.