Reviewed by: Christopher Walker
|Featuring:||Daniel Day-Lewis, Martin Stringer, Kevin J. O'Connor, Jacob Stringer, Matthew Braden Stringer, Ciarán Hinds, [more]|
|Director:||Paul Thomas Anderson
“Magnolia,” “Boogie Nights”
|Producer:||Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Lupi, Scott Rudin, Eric Schlosser, JoAnne Sellar, David Williams|
“When ambition meets faith”
With it’s 8 Oscar Nominations, including Best Picture, Paul Thomas (“Magnolia,” “Boogie Nights”) Anderson’s adaptation of a novel by Upton Sinclair will surely generate a buzz for both general and Christian audiences. Christian audiences should be advised this film paints a very unflattering portrait of religion and in particular Pentecostal ministers.
Daniel Day Lewis plays turn of the century oil prospector Daniel Plainview. Plainview’s greed and ambition leads him to a small California town under the pretense of buying land for him and his son to hunt quail. He calculatingly deceives land owner Abel Sunday to sell the land for far less than it is worth by not disclosing that he is aware that there is a large abundance of oil under the land. Abel’s son Eli, who is a Pentecostal minister in the city, questions Plainview’s motives and calls him on his purposeful lack of disclosing his knowledge of the town’s oil. This confrontation not only leads to what will become an ongoing conflict between Plainview and Eli, but discloses Plainview’s utter contempt for anything religious.
Though he has to buy the land for more than he had intended, Daniel goes through with the purchase and immediately builds an oil rig across town from Eli’s small church. Eli visits Daniel to discuss how the rig is drawing congregants away from his church and invites Daniel to attend one of his services. Though Daniel does not agree to come to the church, he is reluctantly persuaded to allow Daniel to bless his oil rig prior to setting into motion the first drilling. When the day comes, however, Daniel dismisses the young preacher by making a quick, dismissive remark regarding not giving a lengthy prayer and then breathes a quick prayer and sends the oil machines into motion. He does this publicly to purposefully embarrass Eli and his small flock of believers.
The battle between Eli and Daniel intensifies to the point that Daniel physically attacks Eli and beats him down in the middle of a field of oil leaving Eli both physically and spiritually bruised. He has also become tarnished, as he sits covered in blood and dirty oil.
The film is cinematically well crafted, and the performances of both Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano as Eli Sunday are Oscar worthy. Lewis’ ability to maintain a calm demeanor while we watch him slowly go down a spiral of greed and anger will probably garner him an Oscar®. Throughout the film, his performance is well restrained, even when his anger turns to violent fits of rage.
The title not withstanding, there is surprisingly very little violence or bloodshed. There are two early accidental deaths attributed to workplace fatalities on the oil rig, other than that there are two instances where Daniel's anger gets the best of him. In the first instance, Daniel grows angry and kills a man who he figures out is trying to deceive him. We never see this murder actually happen and only realize that Daniel has gone through with it when the body is being buried. The second killing is definitely more graphic and involves a man getting beaten to death with a bowling pin, at that point the film lives up to its promise.
There is not a lot of profanity, and Daniel is so consumed with lust for riches that he appears totally devoid of caring or emotions beyond anyone but himself, this leaves him and the film without any relationships with women. The element that will be most troubling, particularly to Christian audiences, is Daniel’s utter disdain for the church and his non relenting contempt for anything spiritual. A scene where Daniel goes through being baptized and publicly repenting will no doubt offend Christian viewers, as he is simply doing this as a way to once again get a piece of land to continue his insatiable quest for oil. The scene will strike many as a mockery of this highly reverential custom.
In this battle between Plainview and the church, Plainview just continues to grow deeper in his greed, and his anger becomes greater and greater as he attempts to destroy everything and everyone that gets in his way. His son even sees his father descending to a point of no return and attempts to distance himself from his father, only to incur his father’s anger.
Ultimately, the film leaves viewers with no hope, no feeling of redemption for this man who will do anything to gain wealth and power. If the film was merely a portrait of how greed can corrupt a man’s moral fiber, than it might be worth viewing, but with the non-relenting assault on the church and religion, most Christian viewers will leave the theater not only in disbelief, but also with an utter feeling of having been the victim of a spiritual assault.
An alternate view
Review by: Jeremy Landes
I went to see “There Will Be Blood” with great anticipation of seeing a 21st century masterpiece by critical darling writer/director P.T. Anderson. I had read the reviews hailing it as the film of the decade and wanted to know what was so special about this film about an oil man who comes to a small town. The ads hint that the film is epic-sized, and one poster shows a black leather cover with “There Will Be Blood” emblazoned in archaic white letters, rather than “Holy Bible.” If you watch the preview, you’ll see a young pastor performing a raging exorcism and calling someone a “sinner” with damning intonations. It looked shocking and cool. Everything screamed, “This movie is important.”
The creators of “There Will Be Blood” claim that it’s based on the novel Oil!, by Upton Sinclair. When I first heard that a film was being made, I found the book and read the story of a man and his young son traveling through California to locate new oil fields. In the novel, the character of the father is a decent man who loves his son and has a shrewd mind for business, finding success in all he does. A large part of the book is about how his son grows up to appreciate the socialist values of a rural boy, Paul Sunday, who develops into a strong leader advocating unions. Paul also has a brother, Eli, who starts a cultish church. In Oil!, the oil man and the preacher, Eli, barely interact. More conflict takes place between the ideas of Paul Sunday and the capitalist father, as the son is forced to choose who he will follow.
When I watched the film, I quickly realized that P.T. Anderson’s film was not actually an adaptation of Oil!, though it claims to be in the credits. I started questioning why Anderson would appropriate Sinclair’s novel and then just write whatever he wanted using a handful of the book’s plot points and character names? What Anderson has done to the little-read Oil! is akin to buying rights to The Lord of the Rings trilogy and turning it into a love triangle story between Frodo, Sam, and Arwen. Anderson has said that he changed the title of his film in recognition that he hadn’t made a true adaptation, but Sinclair’s name is still being used to sell the movie. Some may call the film “loosely adapted,” but I call it rape.
But for argument’s sake, let’s say that you don’t care about the book and just want to follow this new story and see Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance. Will you be entertained by “There Will Be Blood”? Should you take your spouse and kids? Will it edify you or provoke any deep thinking about its themes? I hope you can make a good decision after you read what I came away thinking about it.
The film tells the story of Daniel Plainview and his young son, H.W., as they go to start oil wells in a religious rural community in California. Tragic accidents happen which force Daniel to make choices that will permanently affect his family and the people around him. We see the effects of greed upon people when they allow it to completely overtake them.
This film shows us a distinct era of American history, and it is beautifully reconstructed and photographed. The music, by Jonny Greenwood, is discomfiting and eerily memorable. P.T. Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis have created a fascinatingly complex character in Daniel Plainview, an oil man willing to play the part of a family man and even acknowledge his sins in order to gain trust and money. He is a man who knows his own nature and makes no apologies. Before he’s baptized at Eli Sunday’s Church of the Third Revelation, as Sunday repeatedly strikes him across the face to demand repentance, Plainview bellows out, “I want the blood!”. I wasn’t sure if he was making mocking reference to Christ’s redemption or thinking about the vengeance he plans to inflict upon the preacher. I loved the moment, immediately after this humiliating “conversion,” when Daniel whispers some words to the preacher, and we’re left to guess what was just said between them.
“There Will Be Blood” is a film that wallows in Daniel’s misery, which is seemingly alleviated only when he’s taking vengeance. The film provoked my heart toward despair, as I walked out of the theatre and considered the many horrors I had witnessed, including the way Daniel ultimately rejects everyone around him. I cannot call it gratuitously violent in terms of gore, but the film scores high on emotional violence. Daniel Plainview’s character needs a savior, but most of the Christians he meets are shown to be simple idiots or hypocrites who lust after what Daniel has to offer them: prestige and wealth. Daniel Plainview, despite all the evil acts he commits, is depicted as a human being worth caring about who’s more noble because he has a clear awareness of his sins. He takes pleasure in both extracting oil from the land and truth from the mouths of liars—two of whom call him “brother” before he murders them.
So why would filmmaker P.T. Anderson dedicate years and spend tens of millions to create this “loose adaptation” of the obscure novel Oil! for American audiences in 2008? He wasn’t attracted to Sinclair’s story, I believe, since he used hardly any of it. I don’t think he’s making political points for the election nor trying to win Oscars. Anderson has something to say about families, particularly broken children and their fathers. In Anderson’s 1999 epic film “Magnolia” as well as Blood, he keeps showing us sons and daughters overcoming their fathers’ abuse and neglect to become people who respect themselves and find freedom when they confront the truth of their past. A new start is possible.
“There Will be Blood” begins with chaotic music playing against a barren landscape as a poor, obscure man in a hole swings a pick-axe into rocks looking for wealth. Two-and-a-half hours later, we see this man—now old, rich, and much more miserable—swinging a bowling pin and “finishing” the work he started to fulfill the promise of the movie’s title. He demands that his nemesis tell the truth and proclaims himself to be the “Third Revelation” of God as he deals out violent death to a man who’s been fearfully imprisoned by his own sins. Then we hear a beautiful waltz by Brahms over the credits and get sent home. Order has been restored through blood-letting, it seems. A broken man’s sinful honesty has prevailed over another man’s weakness and hypocricy. This ending felt tacked-on and cheap to me: a crowd-pleaser in which the “bad guy” gets his due and the avenger prances about gloating over his victory. I would like to know what other followers of Jesus think, so I’m submitting this initial review.
I can’t condemn the film, because I did get caught up in its story and felt genuine awe and fear toward the character of Daniel Plainview. I just don’t feel I can patently recommend it because of a few of the aforementioned factors. Go see it at the risk of feeling jerked around.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.