Daniel Day-Lewis gives a stellar performance as Daniel Plainview, a turn-of-the-20th-century robber baron in “There Will Be Blood.” Paul Thomas Anderson (“Magnolia”) wrote and directed this bleak picture on the intersection of money and religion.
Beginning in the latter days of the 19th century, we see Daniel Plainview working in silence in a silver mine. We learn early the willpower of this man who, in his own words, wants to make enough money to be left alone by most people. Plainview moves on from silver to oil, and we watch him drill for it, again in silence. The scene switches to Plainview sitting for a town hall meeting where he explains he can bring the town money by drilling for oil. He has with him his son, H.W. Plainview (Dillon Freasier), and he makes it clear that he is a family man. But there is a morbid bond between father and son that reveals itself later in the film.
A mysterious stranger, who identifies himself as Paul Sunday (Paul Dano), comes to Plainview and tells him about a town where oil can be found. The land is so rich with oil, it can be found floating on the ground. Paul’s shrewd presentation, however, makes it clear that money must change hands before information. Plainview tells Sunday if the information does not bear what he says, then he will kill Sunday for lying.
When Plainview arrives in the community, he finds oil–an ocean of oil. He also finds Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), the pastor of the Church of the Third Revelation. Eli is Paul’s brother, but we never see the two together. Eli makes it clear that he expects Plainview to pay the church for the right to drill oil in the community. An unhealthy relationship between church and industry develops.
When the first well is begun, Eli says he will bless it. Plainview agrees, but on the day of drilling he blesses it himself, ignoring Eli. Hate grows between the two and feeds this story, which is based on the novel by Upton Sinclair. Plainview and Sunday both grow rich, using each other along the way.
Daniel Day-Lewis seems to be channeling John Huston’s character Noah Cross from “Chinatown.” Cross is an older version of Plainview. Both are amoral and cater to their dreams only. Plainview is without guilt, having little remorse for sins he commits in the name of himself.
Equally important to the film is Paul Dano’s Eli Sunday. Sunday is a charismatic Pentecostal preacher, and Dano captures that style well. You see that he is a pastor who cares for his flock, but he is also a man who flies too high on borrowed wings. Eli believes he is entitled because he is gifted, but he does not acknowledge God as the source.
People will study and talk about “Blood” for years to come because of Anderson’s story and visual style. But make no mistake: This movie is painful to watch. There is nothing but pain and agony on the screen. It is not a story in which a character simply falls into the depths of depravity; rather, it is a film showing how a determined purpose of becoming rich drives depravity. We also see a misdirected faith that believes success is an entitlement from God to do whatever one pleases.
In the same way that “Chinatown” tells us some things happen for no apparent rhyme or reason and that the powerful win out, so does “There Will Be Blood.” Just as “Citizen Kane”warns us of how unchecked power and money can create a man twisted by his desires, so does this film.
Far from perfect, “There Will Be Blood” presents a picture of humanity that is shockingly true, but hopefully not real.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: R for some violence.
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson (based on the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair)
Cast: Daniel Plainview: Daniel Day-Lewis; Paul/Eli Sunday: Paul Dano; H W. Plainview: Dillon Freasier; Henry Plainview: Kevin J. O’Connor; Abel Sunday: David Willis; Bandy: Hans Howes.
The movie’s official Web site is here.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.