The second big movie this past year about a serial killer, Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood and Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd may have a lot to do with the public’s both fear and fascination off-screen with human depravity. But other than one sings and the other doesn’t, while mostly randomly dispatching victims to the afterlife in the midst of fits of generic rage, There Will Be Blood and Sweeney Todd have nothing else in common.
Two time Academy Award nominee Anderson (Magnolia, Boogie Nights), who’s turning into a real scene stealer in a different kind of sense, swiped the film’s narrative from early muckraker Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel about greed – Oil. While dispensing with much of the book’s socio-political content, in favor of emotionally drenched gut-slicing and grueling bipolar gore.
Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview, is the increasingly psychopathic oily manic robber baron. At the beginning of the film, he seems to rise from the bowels of the earth drenched in the lucrative goo, like your basic screen monster from hell, and then wreak havoc on his fellow humans everywhere. Which deserves every Oscar Day-Lewis can get, just for sheer diabolical enthusiasm.
Throughout the course of Plainview’s dastardly pillaging and land grabbing from gullible farmers whose land sits on top of oil, the shrewd and graciously creepy con man drags along a child of questionable custody (Dillon Freasier) under his arm, whom he has named simply H.W., in what is surely the most grotesque screen image ever of a warped male maternal instinct. Plainview avoids inquiries about the absence of a mother or wife, and his contradictory explanations, along with his repeated homicidal tendencies, are chilling to contemplate. Especially as his fiercely self-reliant solo parenting and economic exploitation of the boy to charm and woo farmers into his scams, increasingly come to light.
Make no mistake, There Will Be Blood is also a love story, about a man so literally love-crazy in his deepening, depraved infatuation with oil as his inanimate object of desire, that this diseased passion clearly supersedes human attachments while compounding his homicidal urges. A second key character in the film, with whom Plainview comes to increasingly fatal blows, is Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), a young religious fanatic and rural holy roller preacher whose own destructive spiritual obsessions clash with Plainview’s materialism and freakish family values in the service of capitalism, setting up a striking symbolic mindscape pertaining to US history. But one that eventually succumbs to the repulsive violence in which the film’s grand intentions ultimately drown.
A huge problem here, is that Anderson drops Sinclair’s political fury halfway through, to detour into capitalist versus evangelical crude slasher carnage. Commerce and religion, not to mention blood and oil, just don’t mix here.
Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Features: Additional Scenes: Haircut/Interrupted Hymn; Fishing; Featurettes: 15; Dailies Gone Wild; The Story Of Petroleum; Original Theatrical Trailer; Teaser.