With all of the hype surrounding Daniel Day-Lewis' performance (he was, in fact, given a Best Actor nod from the San Diego Film Critics Society, for whatever that is worth) in the P.T. Anderson-directed tale of early American oil speculation, "There Will Be Blood," I can only relate my extreme disappointment.
This would have made an interesting 90-minute movie, but, unfortunately, it runs over 140-minutes, most of which is smeared with plasma and petroleum to the extent every character is sullied and unrecognizable as a human being.
Perhaps Anderson wanted it that way, after all, it's really only Day-Lewis¹ character (the lubricious Daniel Plainview) that even comes close to developing; the others are simply there to keep him company and accept his violent tirades.
Yes, times were tough in the early hardscrabble years of the American West, but this guy makes Jonas Cord ("The Carpetbaggers") look like Mother Theresa.
We first meet Plainview in 1898 mining for silver in Arizona. After a nasty fall in which he breaks his ankle, he discovers oil in the shaft. After a few years, he has a crew and a few successful wells.
One day, a fellow worker there with his infant son (for some reason) is killed and Plainview adopts the boy, H. W. (Dillion Freasier) for no other reason than to have a cute face to show while he cons the public (see "Paper Moon").
These are some of the movie's best scenes, with Plainview - and H.W. in tow - visiting backwoods bergs and convincing a gullible populace into signing away land rights for a fraction of what they were worth. Plainview, with a sinister soft-spoken demeanor plays psychological games until the rubes are all but ready to GIVE him the oil rights in perpetuity.
Several years later, a visitor tells Plainview about a ranch in California that is soaking in oil, so Pop and son head out there, under the pretense of hunting quail. There they meet the Sunday family, addled dad, Abel (David Willis), a few non-descript females and an Evangelist son, Eli (Paul Dano, "Little Miss Sunshine").
Plainview and Eli do not hit it off at all, and this is the conflict that sets up the second act. It doesn't take much to finagle Abel out of the Sunday Ranch, as well as the surrounding property, but several tragedies cause many in the town especially the young preacher to wonder if they made the right move in letting Plainview into their midst.
When H.W. is rendered deaf in an explosion and disastrous fire, we wonder if the whole enterprise is worth it.
Up until this point, I was willing to go along with this film as not only a historical drama relating the days of the early oil industry, as well as a chronicle of rural religious fervor, sort of "Oklahoma Crude" meets "The Apostle."
The problem is, the picture does not continue to walk that thin line. We are now subjected to scene after scene of Plainview¹s descent into madness and murder but with little or no motivation for either.
For example, he beats Eli severely and mocks his church; meets a man who claims he¹s his brother; abandons H.W. and generally spirals out of control.
He's business savvy, however, and plans to build a pipeline to transport his vast oil reserves to the coast (thus eliminating the cost of railroad shipping). To do this, though, he has to build through a local hermit's (Hans Howes, "Seabiscuit") land.
The only way to accomplish this is to humble himself before Eli and the congregation and be baptized, obviously a fate worse than death to Plainview who seems to have no morals, whatsoever.
Now that he¹s joined the church and gotten his pipeline built, does he enjoy even one iota of his success? Absolutely not.
In one of Day-Lewis' many monologues, he gives us his motivation for being such a bastard, "I do not just want to succeed, I do not want anyone else to succeed."
Still, that does not explain his psychotic, murderous frenzy, and the longer the film goes on, the less cohesive it became.
I can accept his tirades early on, and even a bit of his unmotivated violence near the middle of the film, but Anderson pushes things to the extreme limit. He's even admitted that he watched "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" before beginning to film "Blood" - yet he still did not learn anything about coherent film-making.
Friends, this is by far one of the most depressing and oppressive films of the year. In fact, it makes "No Country For Old Men" look like "Mary Poppins."
Then, at the conclusion, after watching more than two-plus hours of this evil, hateful man succeed over and over again, we're treated to another brutal, pointless murder - this one coming out of nowhere.
Like "The Last King of Scotland," in which Forrest Whittaker won the Best Actor award, this is another performance-driven, but deeply-flawed motion picture.
Day-Lewis will certainly be nominated for this, and he may actually win, but that does not mean one will enjoy the experience of watching that performance.