A steamy serving of Texas tea

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Daniel Plainview, the protagonist of “There Will Be Blood” has certainly chosen the perfect profession as an oil man.He spends his time mining the dark depth where men seldom go, both literally and figuratively. When he does find what he seeks, he erupts in a furious geyser, spewing and staining all within reach.

Daniel Day Lewis manifests Plainview with every ounce of nuance and care he brings to each of his performances. For the film’s first 15 minutes, we are stranded in silent isolation with Plainview, as he toils in the dark bowels of the Earth, at one point injuring himself to the point where we assume he must have crawled miles to a nearby town to cash in his meager findings.

“I hate most people,” he says in a rare confession, and that hatred drives his passion to succeed. But Day Lewis, and director P. T. Anderson, also let just a sliver of light in to see that he is human as well – as witnessed in the care of his son, however twisted it may be.It’s a delicate dance to command the audience to follow someone who embodies such loathsome traits, yet still hold out the smallest hope that one person will be able to drill deep enough into his soul to find moral riches.

There is, as it happens, someone equipped to bore into Plainview, but the result is a gushing blast of anger. That person is Eli Sunday (played by “Little Miss Sunshine’s” resident mute Paul Dano). Eli is a seemingly lucid, god-fearing young man, but as the movie progresses, we witness his piety and greed for his church that matches Plainview’s obsession for his oil in its intensity.

A particular bravura scene features Eli “exorcising” arthritis from an elderly parishioner. His flamboyant display of carnival barker theatrics shows that there is much beneath his outer shell as well.

As the years flip by, tragedy pocks the operation – including one incident that leaves Planview’s only child deafened in a blast. We watch Plainview struggle to gain control of the situation, promising to get the best teachers to educate his son. But, after realizing this may be too daunting a task to undertake in his quest for black gold, he dumps the child off to proceed with business as usual.

All the while, Eli follows him like a shadow, taunting Plainview of his misdeeds (while perhaps committing a few himself) and pleading for his salvation.The two ultimately confront each other in the film’s final act, each struggling to fail footing over the other, both sinking deeper into the muck of their past.

“There Will Be Blood” is a throwback to deliberate, epic story-centric films of Terrance Mallick, Robert Altman and Stanley Kubrick. And while it may not be able to fit on the same tier (the film does suffer from some ponderous moment that perhaps will make better sense on repeated viewings), it is certainly the closest successor to the throne in quite some time.

From the desolate, meticulous cinematography by Robert Elswit to the fittingly eclectic score from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, “Blood” courses with a passion and attention to detail seldom seen today. And though the film was plucked from the pages of Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel “Oil!,” it still manages to suck us in with every scene change, for our leads are so unpredictable, we have no clue as to what their next move may be.

The same can be said for director Anderson, whose résumé continues to surprise with an attention to the craft of filmmaking well beyond his years (also witnessed in “Boogie Nights and “Magnolia”). We do not know what he has in store for us in the near future, but I, for more, cannot wait to behold it.

~ by usesoapfilm on January 31, 2008.

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