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Movie Review

"There will be blood"— and Oscar nominations

Seattle Times staff reporter

Movie review 3.5 stars

"There Will Be Blood," with Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier and Ciaran Hinds.

Directed and written by Paul Thomas Anderson. 158 minutes. Rated R for strong violence. Guild 45th, Pacific Place.

Movie review 3.5 stars

The question "What profit a man to gain the world but lose his soul?" gets harder to answer when there's no soul to begin with.

A kind of "Citizen Kane" with no Rosebud, "There Will Be Blood" chronicles an oilman's trajectory from miserable bastard to hateful maniac as he toils and cheats his way to success in the early 20th century. The singular experience deserves a big-screen viewing for Robert Elswit's cinematography that recalls "Days of Heaven" and Daniel Day-Lewis' performance that recalls John Huston circa "Chinatown."

Based on the 1927 Upton Sinclair novel "Oil!," the 2 ½-hour epic is no crowd-pleasing popcorn-flick. But its stillness and loooong takes have such an immersive effect that you can practically smell the sweat in the shirts and taste the oil that covers everything.

Accidentally striking oil while digging for silver, solitary miner Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis) becomes an oil prospector whose adopted little boy, H.W. (Dillon Freasier), elicits his only humanity — or mask of it — while he convinces citizens to let him drill on their land. He doesn't like to answer questions or explain himself and doesn't have time for women.

He confides that he's not exactly a people person: "I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people."

One night, a young man (Paul Dano, "Little Miss Sunshine") turns up with an offer to tell Plainview the location of oil-rich land in exchange for money. When the unscrupulous Plainview tries to convince the owners to sell to him, downplaying the vast wealth flowing beneath them, he meets his nemesis for life: charismatic young faith healer Eli Sunday (Dano again, playing his own brother).

The two men see right through each other, and their rivalry escalates — each getting the upper hand over the other, eventually — as the little California town grows around the oil. Tragedy accrues with the money, and Plainview grows more remote, more seething, more stubborn, paranoid and violent — until any resemblance to a human being is accidental.

Oscar-winner Day-Lewis approaches the "Mommy Dearest" tipping point with his Huston imitation — particularly at the snarling, drooling climax — but it's so fascinating that I wish he'd do audio books in that persona. Prediction and blurb: There will be nominations. (And soon because technically this is a 2007 movie).

Up to now, director Paul Thomas Anderson's work has diminished with each film since "Boogie Nights," but "Blood" is a maturation and reinvention. If his star is channeling Huston, then he's channeling Stanley Kubrick. Even Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood's orchestral score echoes "2001: A Space Odyssey" in its beautifully unsettling wails.

Minor complaint: As Plainview's right-hand man, Ciaran Hinds (who was so good in "Munich" and HBO's "Rome") is largely squandered with little to do — even if it is Day-Lewis' show.

The story also kept me at arm's length because if it is the tale of a man who gains the world and loses his soul, he's never shown in any whole state that allows for attachment or empathy with the character. There's no key to the guy, just hard work and hate. But then, most people don't really have a Rosebud. That is, unless on my deathbed I mutter "... G.I. Joe Mobile Support Vehicle... "

Mark Rahner:

The information in this article, originally published January 4, 2008, was corrected January 5, 2008. The film "There Will Be Blood" is based on the Upton Sinclair novel "Oil!". A previous version of the story incorrectly named Sinclair Lewis as the author of "Oil!".

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company


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