There Will Be Blood
I don't remember the last time a film gave me nightmares; it might have been when I was eight and saw Snow White's wicked witch try to poison her. But "There Will Be Blood" gave me the closest thing to a nightmare that I've had in quite a while. Daniel Day- Lewis is Daniel Plainview, a monstrous man whose life we see in Paul Thomas Anderson's film - very loosely based on Upton Sinclair's novel "Oil," a book I haven't read and don't believe I'll read now.
Very few films have ever had the visceral impact that this one does; when we meet him at the turn of the 20th century Daniel Plainview is a mining roughneck, looking for silver and gold in a mine he built himself. He falls in and breaks his leg, but by an almost superhuman effort he rescues himself. The next time we meet him he's looking for oil in California; a young man comes to him and tells him about oil seeping through the ground near his family's barren ranch. Plainview is in no hurry to negotiate his oil leases; he waits till the family needs him more than he needs them. Then he pounces, buying up land from them and their neighbors till he owns the whole field. The young man's brother Eli (Paul Dano) is an evangelical minister who wants to start a church; Daniel promises him a $5,000 contribution. That promise, and the relationship of the two men, will reverberate through the rest of the film.
But the film is not ultimately about that, nor even about oil, although oil and its rewards are in every frame; it is about Daniel Plainview, as exhibited in all his implacable hatred - a hatred of others, a willful disregard of the pleasures of life itself, a contempt for the consolations of religion, and most of all what we see is a hatred of himself. As he begins to drill for oil, one of his workers is killed; Daniel takes that man's son for his own, uses him to endear himself to his victims, but when a blast deafens his son at the age of 10, he abandons him.
At one point a half-brother shows up, asking to work for Daniel. It is a mark of his alienation from his own family that Daniel does not recognize him; when he does, eventually, the result is not what we might have expected.
In many ways this film follows the same track laid down by Orson Welles in "Citizen Kane:" that is, a man who lives only to get rich has no other life, and in a sense no reaon for being; he becomes a kind of monster among men. We see in this film how that will play out
Having said all that, "There Will Be Blood" is an astounding achievement, and I think it is a film not to be missed. Daniel Day-Lewis has taken this role far beyond what I imagine most actors would have done; somehow I think they might have found Daniel's human side; given him at least a more sympathetic reading. Day-Lewis will have none of that, and his performance is all the better because of it. When you play a monster, you must accept him for what he is. That is Daniel Day-Lewis's achievement.