I don't often take the time or spend the money to go see a movie on the big screen. I have patience and will usually wait until one in which I'm interested gets released on DVD and put it on my NetFlix list. There is also the problem of a dirth of actually good films, in my opinion, being released during the last few years. I don't enjoy the action-type movies, nor the horror/slasher/sci-fi films, nor the holiday releases and "romantic comedies" that are so brainless and trite. Call me a snob, but really well-made movies with substantial, meaningful plots and characters, performed by serious actors, come around once in a blue moon as far as I'm concerned.
But, there are some really accomplished actors who I like to follow, one of whom is Daniel Day-Lewis. I have seen almost every movie he's been in and, because of that past experience with his performances, I trust that: a) any movie of which he takes part is going to be well-made and has an interesting plot; and, b) his performance is going to pretty much blow me away. When I saw that his latest undertaking was based on a novel by Upton Sinclair, I figured I could not go wrong.
"There Will Be Blood" is admittedly only loosely based on Sinclair's 1927 novel Oil, written in the context of the Teapot Dome Scandal of 1922 which cast a shadow over President Warren Harding's administration and whose lessons of no-bid contracts and government corruption still ring true today. However, Sinclair's strong social commentary is definitely felt in the characters and plot of the movie, which deals with the early days of oil prospecting and drilling, and the infancy of the oil industry in America.
A synopsis of the story can be found online and in newspapers, so I won't take your time with it here, but I would like to say that I was profoundly moved by this movie. The two main characters, Daniel Plainview (played by Day-Lewis) and Eli Sunday (played by Paul Dano), are literally forces of nature: Plainview a hardened, ambitious, and some could say ruthless prospecter; and, Sunday an equally ambitious, ruthless and sadistic evangelist preacher. The contrast and comparison of these two forces – one a capitalist after personal fortune, the other a man of God after personal religious celebrity – is the core of the film. As the story progresses, you are brought deeper and deeper into each man's heart, mind and soul, only to find that they are almost indistinguishable in many aspects. I often found myself thinking during the film about which of these men better deserved my disgust or my compassion. I never came to a decision about that, even in the end.
The characters in their lives swirl around these two men like secondary planets, having only minor effects on their relentless pursuits and often colliding with them to their own detriment. Plainview's son and "partner" is hauntingly played by Dillon Freasier, and Kevin O'Connor creates one of the other characters with whom I could sympathize in the film, Plainview's supposed half-brother. Most of the film is set in the fledging town of Little Boston, California, which in itself becomes a strong character in the movie, ever barren, dry, dusty and bleak in the blinding sunlight.
This movie is not for everyone. It is long, with little to smile at, and much at which to cringe. Its violent and abrupt ending will leave you stuck to your seat, attempting to regain your composure and get a handle on what exactly you are feeling about the film. It will continue to be unsettling as you replay scenes for days afterwards and wonder at the story, the acting, and the total impression the film makes. It is truly what a good movie is in my opinion – real art. Not "entertainment", not something to kill time with your friends, but an actual piece of art that makes you think, question, and more fully understand what it means to be human.