Thursday, November 19, 2009

Powerful Performances in "There Will be Blood"

"There Will be Blood" is a powerful story about oil, money, greed and religion. The title of the film aptly describes the story of oil drilling at the turn of the twentieth century. I had mixed feelings about this film. On one hand, it was a film well-deserving of its 2008 best picture nomination. On the other, there were several scenes of superfluous dialogue that didn't seem to have anything to do with the rest of the story. But this was clearly a performance driven film.

Daniel Day-Lewis plays Daniel Plainview (in his second Academy Award-winning role), a successful oilman who travels the country at the request of farmers who believe their land is rich with oil. He operates on his keen sense of intuition. He travels to these places, only if he believes that there is actually oil. If his gut says there is, he goes, hires the local townspeople to set up a drilling operation, and pays them all an excellent salary. When a young preacher (played by Paul Dano) approaches him about his supposedly oil rich farm land, Plainview's life changes, at first, it seems, for the better. But as the film and story unfolds, he suffers setback after setback.

In the beginning of the film, it's 1902, and Plainview and one of his best friends are working on an oilrig together. Suddenly, the rope which is tied to the wooden structure of the tower snaps under the intense weight of the buckets of oil being hoisted out of the well. A large piece of woods comes crashing down to the well, killing his friend with its force. His friend has a son, the mother of whom, we later find out, had died during the birthing process. Plainview adopts the boy as his own, and the two, it seems, become unseperable. But then, tragedy strikes. His adopted son is working for Plainview on an oilrig. There is an explosion that knocks his son off the platform. While this doesn't kill him, it causes him to go deaf, and causes much tension between father and son.

This is, very much so, a performance driven film. Day-Lewis gives one of the most dramatic and intense performances I've ever seen from him. He is one of those actors who gets completely lost in each of the characters he portrays. He plays characters that, as much of a cliche as it is to say, you love to hate. He plays a sadistic, homicidal butcher in Martin Scorsese's 2002 film "Gangs of New York". In this film, he plays an oil tycoon who is sadistic, but yet saavy and business minded. The other stand out performance is Paul Dano as the young, tenacious preacher. His character, to me, can be compared to the modern day televangelist, relying highly on his strong belief that he is a messanger, sent by God to heal the sick and preach God's gospel. He reminded me of a turn of the century Jerry Falwell.

At times during the film, the long scenes of dialogue made me want to turn it off and take a nap. But the excellent performances never failed to suck me back into the story. With a running time of over two and a half hours, this is not a film that you can simply put on and then walk away from. You have to devote your time to it with as minimal distraction as possible. It's an excellent film with strongly acted roles and a great story. I highly recommend it!

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