Movie News & Reviews

"There Will Be Blood" is unsettling and excellent

Just like daytime TV is obviously intentionally horrible to get theunemployed back in the workplace as fast as possible, I sometimessuspect movies always show big rich industry barons as miserable sacksjust so the rest of us will feel better when we go back to ourdirt-floored shanties.

Yes, these railroad and newspaper and oil tycoons may be able to buyus and use us as mobile doorstops, or buy a fancy new puppy and thenreplace the puppy every time it starts looking more like a dog than apuppy, but they're sad people.

So we can tuck ourselves under our ripped-up-phone-book blankets atnight knowing we may never own a boat or an indoor circus or one ofthose small Eastern states, but at least we're happy. Well, content.Not suicidal, anyway, and even if we did start to get ideas abouthopping their tall iron fences and redistributing some of thatwealth -- which, logically, would only make the tycoons lessunhappy -- one of their hired Pinkertons would probably crack our skullsright open. A massive head wound might make daytime TV halfwaybearable, but then when we sold enough stolen copper pipe to be ableto go see the industry baron in There Will Be Blood, we'd see"1898" on the opening scene, gasp in horror, then rush right backoutside believing the movie-showing-place had flung us 110 years intothe past where we'll be eaten by saber-toothed tigers all over again.

At the tail end of the 19th century, Daniel Day-Lewis is a two-bitgold miner. The discovery of oil welling up from the bottom of hispit changes everything.

Over the next few years, he builds his claim into a small butprofitable power, becoming reputable enough that a kid looking tomake a quick buck comes to Day-Lewis with a tip: back near hisfamily's ranch, there's been an earthquake, and oil's just bubblingout of the ground. The big oil companies have been buying up landnearby, but so far they haven't found the true strike.

Adopted son at his side, Day-Lewis convinces the locals to sell himtheir land. He's a family man, he says, a plain-speaking, personalbusinessman, and his success will be their success. Till now, youngpreacher Paul Dano has had undisputed sway over the citizens;Day-Lewis' sudden influence, along with a broken deal to donate moneyto the church, sets them at odds.

Episodic in feel but deceptively cohesive, There Will BeBlood's story of a man compelled to money and power is shot so thesignificance of what's happening often isn't clear until much later inthe movie. The menacing score hints at what's up -- you could set thismusic over a grandma chatting with her pet parakeet and it'd stillgive me the spooks -- but it isn't until pretty deep into things thatyou start to realize there's something off about Day-Lewis.

Day-Lewis appears in a new film approximately as frequently as themoon is blown up by rocket-powered dinosaurs. Usually, the resultsare almost as awesome. Without his presence to drive things along,the movie's plot, which lacks a well-defined central conflict, mightdrag in places. With him, it's hard to look away; whenwriter/director Paul Thomas Anderson cuts loose with a scene ofsimple, brutal violence or an amped-up confrontation that always feelslike it's a half-step away from bloodshed, Day-Lewis looms like he's12 is feet tall.

A lot of the time, There Will Be Blood just seems to be makingup its own rules as it goes along. Most of the time, that's a recipefor capital-F Failure, for movies that you wish could be incarnatedinto little humans so you could slap pointy hats on their heads andmake them stand in the corner and think about what they've done.

There Will Be Blood isn't one of those movies. Its unsettling,neuron-searingly memorable scenes alone would make it interesting, ifa little loose. Tied together under the life of a man willing to tellany lies and destroy anyone who threatens the amassment of his empire,its dark and subterranean storytelling is slowly drawn into somethingthat feels inevitable.

Grade: A