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Daniel Day-Lewis gets his hands dirty with “There Will Be Blood”

Mark Witte | Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Paul Thomas Anderson has returned from a five-year hiatus with his new film “There Will Be Blood” – an epic tale of oil, family, hate, deception and madness at the turn of the 20th century. The movie is an intense work of filmmaking which captivates in a horrifyingly beautiful, yet uncomfortable manner.

It opens with a thin, scraggly man, chipping away at the insides of a mountain. Eventually deciding to blast the rock with dynamite, the man lights a fuse, climbs out of the shaft he is in, and hoists his explosive into position. After the blast he begins to climb back down, but by accident his ladder breaks and he falls from about halfway up, down to the bottom of the shaft, breaking his leg. Despite his incapacitation the man discovers silver and not only hauls himself out of the hole with the metal, but drags himself across the California wilderness and into town, where he secures his claim. Thus is our introduction to Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) and the drive, determination, and madness that marks his character.

The film flips ahead some years and we find the scraggly Plainview working on an oil drilling team. There he witnesses one of many frequent accidents in which men working in the oil well happen to be killed by an object falling from above. This particular accident leaves an infant boy orphaned and we see Plainview taking the crying child into his arms as his dead father, covered in blood and oil, is carried off in the background. Daniel adopts the child.

The next time we see Daniel Plainview, about ten years later, his figure is drastically different. Clad in a suit and top-hat and sporting a wicked smile, we see Plainview giving a speech promoting his oil drilling business. He claims: “I’m a family man – I run a family business. This is my son and my partner, H.W. Plainview.” Throughout the film, the young H.W. (Dillon Freasier) is allowed to say very little, mostly acting as a face by which his father manipulates clients into signing leases.

The story takes a turn when Daniel happens upon the Sunday Ranch and its oil. There Daniel runs into the deceptively passive Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), an evangelist preacher for the Church of the Third Revelation, whose career is also on the rise. Both Sunday and Daniel are bent on singular purposes. Daniel wants immense wealth and Sunday seems bent on extracting some of that wealth to finance his growing church.

The two characters make each other uneasy. Sunday incessantly tries to include Daniel in his church’s worship, but this only causes the atheistic oilman to boil with contempt for the preacher. He makes every effort to spite Sunday when he can.

Accidents begin to happen at the wells and workers are killed. The film hits a climax when one of Daniel’s wells over-pressurizes and oil shoots up from the ground in a tremendous fountain, a blast which deafens his nearby son. The next five minutes onscreen contain some of the most beautiful and breathtaking bits of cinematography and film direction to hit the big screen in recent years, as an oil-covered Daniel watches gallons of oil shoot up hundreds of feet into the air. He continues standing there through the night until morning, just staring at the oil and ignoring the plight of his son.

From there Daniel, and the film, slowly descend into madness. Daniel begins to lose interest in his deaf son. He begins to clash violently with Sunday and even threatens to bury him underground. A man claiming to be his half-brother shows up at camp, but that does not end well either. In the end the film can only end in one way – madness – and it does.

Daniel Day-Lewis’ strong performance as an intimidating oil tycoon has earned him a Golden Globe already and he will surely follow that up with a win at the Oscars. Anderson’s direction has earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Director. The film itself has been nominated for Best Picture as well. These nominations are well-deserved and the haunting force of “There Will Be Blood” is one to be reckoned with.