‘Blood’ a corrupt masterpiece

Ben Raymond

By Ben Raymond

Staff Reporter

“You are not my son. You’re a bastard in a basket.” These lines are spat from the greasy mouth of a man succumb to madness in the dying embers of Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, “There Will Be Blood.”

A discourse on greed and the sometimes-indefatigable hatred of which man is capable, “There Will Be Blood” is an artful and moving picture that drills deeply into the dark wellspring of unchecked sin.

The film is based on Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel “Oil!” Set in the turgid oilfields of the turn-of-the-century American West, “There Will Be Blood” tells the gruesome tale of Daniel Plainview, a self-made prospector-turned-oil tycoon so fearsome and so evil he’d make even the meanest person cry.

When mishaps and competitors stand in the way of business, Plainview turns his oil field into a killing field, stopping at nothing to make his profit.

The film comes oh-so-close to greatness. And I mean oh-so-close. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

First off, Jonny Greenwood’s musical score is nothing short of incredible – a Kubrickian symphony of ear-splitting strings that winds the tension to an unbearable pitch. It’s the best score of the year by far. The cinematography from Robert Elswit is also some of the year’s best.

Direction from young mastermind P.T. Anderson (“Magnolia,” “Punch-Drunk Love”) is superb. Sprawling vistas of desolate land saturate the film in dreadful isolation.

Anderson’s voyeuristic camerawork stalks the action like a cat, crawling steadily along the ground, descending from a rooftop or creeping through a doorway.

Anderson is one of modern cinema’s most talented directors. And he’s only 37! Borrowing pages from the great Stanley Kubrick, Anderson shoots “There Will Be Blood” with a consistent and unyielding sense of foreboding.

Here’s why the film comes “oh so close” to greatness.

Unlike Kubrick, Anderson fails to restrain his zeal for stylization and stumbles headlong into over-indulgence. Too many times I found myself saying, “He’s trying too hard” or “Oh, please.” A little less bravado and a little more discipline would have been advisable.

Further, the film is about 15-20 minutes too long. And this is coming from someone who is more than willing to paste his butt to a seat for three hours or more. Anderson’s script is fantastic overall, but at times takes too long to cash-in on the ever-mounting tension.Paul Dano (“Little Miss Sunshine”) gives an impressive performance as Plainview’s nemesis, the fanatical young pastor Eli Sunday.

Dano creates a character that is even slimier and nearly as despicable as Plainview himself. His sniveling, beady-eyed performance is so authentic that it’s hard to watch. Pity he has been completely ignored this awards season.

But the show belongs to Daniel Day-Lewis. His rendition of the villainous Plainview is positively ferocious.

Matchlessly, Day-Lewis blends Plainview’s inborn menace with a nearly debonair attitude. Beneath the eerie composure lurks a monster, a tyrant of the highest order waiting to be unhinged.

No matter how eloquent or gentlemanlike, his hatred is infernal.

His lust for power and wealth is more auxiliary than primary, like a side effect to a deep-seeded passion for destroying people merely for the sake of it.

It’s fair to say Plainview is not the type of guy who cares about his carbon emissions (a perquisite of oil tycoondom).

I believe global warming is a reality, but I don’t care if it’s 90 degrees in January or if the rainforest is on fire or if baby harp seals are drowning and polar bears are eating each other – if Daniel Plainview tells me to burn oil by the barrel, I’m friggin’ doing it! Heck, I’d stomp on a panda or key up a Prius for him if he asked me to.

Day-Lewis is hands-down the best actor of 2007. Robbed of the Oscar in 2002 for his performance in “Gangs of New York” (best performance of this decade, by the way) and having won the Golden Globe this past Sunday, he is on track for a second and well-deserved Oscar.

“There Will Be Blood” is as much about greed at the altar as it is about greed at the well. The juxtaposition of Plainview’s thirst for oil and Eli’s manipulation of his congregation is an obvious demonstration of the omnipotence of greed.

Anderson makes an effort to show sinners both outside church walls and within them, an effort that provides the film’s most impacting message.

“There Will Be Blood” is one of the most difficult films to capture in a short review.

I cannot write how Day-Lewis cackles in avaricious madness.

I cannot write the complete and utter silence of the film’s first 20 minutes.

I cannot write the sound of an oily geyser ablaze.

What I can write is this: “There Will Be Blood” is one of the year’s finest films and an affirmation that brave and effective filmmaking are not mutually exclusive.

They can and have come together to create a compelling modern epic about the omnipotence of greed and the failure of man to escape it.