There Will Be Blood

Issue section: 
(322)

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson; Release date: 8 February

The first 20 minutes of There Will Be Blood feature no dialogue, just the occasionally grating soundtrack by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood. It's a daring start to an epic film. The story is one that has attracted filmmakers since the beginning of Hollywood - a man starting from nothing and making his fortune-the frontier spirit, the American Dream.

In these first silent scenes you learn a lot about Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day Lewis) - he is a risk taker, a courageous determined loner and he has struck oil. Deep in the bowels of the earth he hacks at the rock, a man against the elements, the red sparks as the pick strikes the rock are the only colour.

Inspired by Upton Sinclair's novel Oil!, There Will Be Blood follows Plainview as he sweet talks the Sunday family out of their hitherto barren ranch, drills an oilwell and buys up land enough to build a pipeline to the sea. From the claustrophobia and darkness of the underground work to the wide vistas of the American landscape the film is visually stunning and feels authentically of the time.

The only relief from a harsh existence is the church. Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) is the local pastor who whips up the religious passion of the homesteaders and is seen as a challenger to Plainview, though I felt Dano's performance didn't get beyond a caricature of a creepy charlatan. Daniel Day Lewis is strongest in the early part of the film when Plainview can still put on the charm, show affection for the boy he calls his son while being totally driven in his mission.

But sadly this film so full of promise (and with eight Oscar nominations so heaped with praise) loses its way. The leaps forward in time, which are a feature throughout, start to feel like disjointed episodes. By the time a middle aged Plainview is seen lurching around his Californian mansion in drunken rages you feel it's time to go home. The final showdown between Plainview and Eli confirms this, overblown and laboured it is full of sound and fury, yet signifies nothing.