Read previous Eats & Entertainment columns


January 23, 2008

FILM REVIEW: ‘There Will Be Blood’


By Nathaniel Shockey

“There Will Be Blood” just received eight Oscar nominations. But is it really that good, or is it just another pretentious movie that takes itself too seriously – a.k.a. the Academy’s favorite sort of movie?


I guess I’ll just go ahead and be the bearer of happy news. “There Will Be Blood,” really is that good. It is not what you might consider pleasurable to watch, but the story is great, and the story-telling is even better.


For the first 10 or 15 minutes, which feel more like an hour, we’re stuck in a mine shaft with Daniel Plainview (Daniel-Day Lewis) as he is mining silver. At one point, Plainview lights a stick of dynamite about 20 feet down the shaft, which he briskly climbs out of via a shoddy-looking wooden ladder only a few moments before the blast. This brutal opening sequence, which sees Plainview badly break his leg, effectively reveals Daniel Plainview as a man with nothing to lose, willing to risk his life for a chunk of silver. That is, of course, until he discovers the oil business.


During a drilling session at the beginning of his career as an oilman, one of his co-workers is killed, leaving behind a baby boy named H.W. Plainview decides to adopt him. He sanctifies the occasion by rubbing an oil-drenched finger on the child’s forehead – a fitting baptism for an adopted son of Plainview.


Before long, the film skips ahead to a town named Little Boston, which is where most of the movie is set. Plainview and H.W. move to Little Boston when Paul Sunday, the son of a Little Boston ranch owner, informs Plainview that his father’s ranch is rich with oil. It is here that H.W. goes deaf, where Plainview meets his alleged half-brother, and where he develops a hateful relationship with the local pastor, Eli Sunday. These are the only three relationships in Plainview’s life with any mentionable depth, but as we eventually learn, none of them goes as deep as the oil in Plainview’s heart.


A drilling accident causes H.W. to lose his hearing, and although Plainview halfheartedly attempts to suffer his son and his ability, he sends the boy away before too long. Eventually, the two reunite, but the relationship never recovers. His final falling-out with his adopted son occurs in the penultimate scene of the movie. Suffice it to say that this is one of the more painful movie moments you’ll ever see. The ugliness of Plainview is finally and appropriately in plain view.


The relationship that dominates the most explosive scenes in the movie is between Plainview and Sunday. Plainview despises him to the utmost. He is the portrait of a modern-day Pharisee – a phony prophet, pretending to be a healer, pretending to be holy – and he receives the terrifying outpouring of all Plainview’s anger.


Each character’s goal was to expose the other for his treachery. So if you wanted to psycho-analyze it, you’d probably say that they both hated themselves and the world around them. Plainview filled his void by trying to make as much money as possible. Eli’s childhood was obsessed with being “religious,” according to the local church, and although he saw the hypocrisy, he could never break from it.


But that’s one of the things that is great about the story. It doesn’t attempt to explain everything, or fit it into some sort of psychological box. It never searches Plainview’s childhood, or attempts to apologize for the way he is. Plainview even says at one point in the movie, “I don’t like to explain myself.” That’s what makes it believable, and that’s what makes it to painful to watch.


Suffice it to say that Daniel Day-Lewis was remarkable. His performance truly was haunting, I watched the movie a week ago and Plainview still scares me. Day-Lewis gives us humanity at its worst, and at least for me, the character is painfully accessible. The quiet kid from Little Miss Sunshine (Paul Dano) plays both Eli and Paul Sunday. Although at one point I found myself wondering, “Is this character really supposed to be so eerie and bizarre?” He was incredibly effective.


The music was almost as good as the movie itself. Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead wrote the score, which was eerie, unpleasant and quite perfect for the movie. They even used a violin concerto by Johannes Brahms, my favorite composer.


It is a damn good movie, certainly one of the best I’ve seen this year, and easily one of the best performances by an actor I’ve ever seen.


5 out of 5 stars


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


Click here to talk to our writers and editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.


To e-mail feedback about this column, click here. If you enjoy this writer's work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry it.


This is Column # EE004. Request permission to publish here.

Op-Ed Writers
Eric Baerren
Lucia de Vernai
Herman Cain
Dan Calabrese
Alan Hurwitz
Paul Ibrahim
David Karki
Llewellyn King
Gregory D. Lee
David B. Livingstone
Nathaniel Shockey
Stephen Silver
Candace Talmadge
Jamie Weinstein
Feature Writers
Mike Ball
Bob Batz
David J. Pollay
Eats & Entertainment
The Laughing Chef