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Movie Review

There Will Be Blood

MPAA Rating: R for some violence

Reviewed by: Christopher Walker

Extremely Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Drama, Adaptation
2 hr. 38 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
January 11, 2008
DVD release: April 8, 2008
Copyright, Paramount Vantage
Copyright, Paramount Vantage
Copyright, Paramount Vantage
Copyright, Paramount Vantage
Copyright, Paramount Vantage
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Relevant Issues
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Hypocrisy in the Church—“I would never be a Christian; they’re a bunch of hypocrites.”


About murder in the Bible

Anger in the Bible



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
Distributor: Paramount Vantage

“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.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—This is one of the best films of the year! Daniel Day Lewis deserves the Oscar. He plays an oil man that gradually becomes consumed by greed, to the point where he comes to hate everyone, and uses just about anyone he meets as a means to an end. Paul Dano is also superb in his controversial role as a sketchy Pentecostal pastor. I don't understand why everyone seems so offended. The point is that Dano's character is just as bad as Lewis’ character, in the sense that he uses God as a means to gain financial profit. There is nothing redeeming about either one of these characters, and this film explores the dark side of humanity. It is the best PT Anderson film since “Magnolia,” and I highly recommend it.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Adam Renkovish, age 25
Positive—This is a very entertaining, and thoughtful movie. It is intense and overpowering at times. The film mainly deals with depravity, greed, anger and deceit. I disagree that it is wholly anti-Christian. There are, and have been people who claim to be Christian and yet do, say, and believe things that are harmful to others and contrary to scripture. It could be said a film about The Crusades is anti-Christian because it shows them in a negative light. In reality, the movie is just portraying what happened. “There Will Be Blood” will not make you feel good after you watch it. But if you enjoy classic movies like “Citizen Kane,” I highly recommend it.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Mike Belcher, age 29
Positive—First, let me qualify my opinion that this movie sends a positive moral message. Much as some audiences viewed movies like “Trainspotting” as commentary upon drug culture and interpreted it to be a glamorization of heroin addiction, I viewed it to be one of the best public service announcements against drug use that has ever been made. There is nothing to indicate that the protagonist of that film will ever experience anything close to redemption or peace in the lifetime that follows the movie. The same is true with “There Will be Blood.” The character of Daniel Plainview slowly reveals itself to be haunted, damned. The final act / scene of the movie solidifies this observation; Plainview's fate is sealed, and he announces over his shoulder, “I'm finished” (interpretive in meaning, yet as morally clear a statement that has ever been made in cinema). I would seriously question the mental / emotional stability of anyone who would emulate the character of Plainview after a viewing of the film. P.T. Anderson (director) has created a secular study of questions centered around morality—and that is what makes it magical. It is not dogmatic or theological; the moral conclusions that are transmitted arise naturally, humanistically. There is a moral fiber that weaves through our core—we are all subject to it whether or not we subscribe to any given sect or denomination. The final message: the ethics and morals that apply to humans are universal, and these are the consequences if they are disregarded. Even the evangelist Eli Sunday is subject to this code. Ironically, it is the morally bankrupt character of Plainview that calls him out as a “false prophet.” Now, Plainview also adds that “God is a superstition.” However, this is presented as a test to Sunday's faith, not as a personal conclusion. He wants to see if Sunday will repeat the words. He does, and in doing so, strips the wool from the wolf's back. Are we to applaud Plainview? No. By this point, we feel too much repugnance for him, however, on his chaotic spiral downward, he manages to reveal Sunday for what he is. At no point are his followers disparaged—in fact, they are treated with a sense of sweetness and understanding along the way (except, that is, for the paternal figure of the Sunday family). I do not view this film as a war cry against Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, capitalism, socialism, or any other ism. It is a cold, hard look at those values that undermine civility and natural law.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Lance Hamm, age 32
Positive—Religious people seem to be offended that Paul Dano's character, Eli, is portrayed as a conniving, twisted minister. That is not offensive; that is a sad truth. If Christians are portrayed that way in film, it because we are often that way in real life. We like to think we're better than the “world,” but most of the time (i.e., Monday through Saturday and maybe even Sunday afternoon, too) we slip up tremendously and act just as badly as non Christians, if not worse. So the Pentacostal minister gets an unflattering portrayal. So does Daniel Plainview (Day Lewis), the greedy oil capitalist. In fact, not too many people get a good portrayal. That Eli is a bad person is not so much a (sadly accurate) jab at Christians, but rather one single part of a statement against humanity's boundless corruption. This movie is well-made, especially in terms of cinematography, acting, and sound/music. It's a bit on the long side, though, and be prepared for the truly unhappy ending. Any portrayals of sin in this movie (Eli's greed, Daniel Plainview's murderous deeds and poor parenting) are roundly condemned, and thus this movie actually promotes Christian values more than it impedes them.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Jm, age 17
Neutral—“There Will Be Blood” is unfortunately terribly overrated. I saw this at an advanced screening in Dallas, so everyone pretty much came into it with high expectations. I certainly had high expectations. It is after all a P.T. Anderson movie, and he has made consistently good or interesting movies. He is what you would think Quentin Tarantino was going to be after making the excellent Jackie Brown. “There Will Be Blood” is something of a seriously flawed masterpiece. It is incredibly well made, and there is not a single moment that is not watchable on it's own terms, but, as a whole, this movie does not gel together like it should. A lot of people have talked about the tacked on ending. It's true that the ending is tacked on, but so is the plot leading to it. The actual movie is about a Mr. Plainview, played by Mr. Day-Lewis, obsessed by greed. He is a business addict like Michael Douglas in “Wallstreet.” When the movie sticks to him drilling and indulging his one passion, it is amazing. The opening scenes of him drilling, falling down a mine shaft, and then dragging himself into town, with gun in tow to frighten off thieves, are nothing short of some of the best filmmaking in years. The movie keeps meandering away from the drilling and obsession, though. It feels the need to include another Plainview type character in the shape of a cultish church leader named Eli. It is here where the film crumbles inward on itself. Part of the problem is that Paul Dano doesn't play the character with even the slightest ounce of charisma. You sit through the whole movie wondering who in their right mind follows this guy. The idea isn't bad. Plenty of people, especially on college campuses, try to create little cults of personality around themselves. It could have even made for an excellent movie and the elements are there. Plainview is trying to control the town by promising them the here and now. Eli promising the here after. Unfortunately, the subplot of them fighting for control of the town is about 30 minutes of a 2 hour and 30 something minute movie. Since the ending hinges on this subplot and since it's given minimum lip service, the ending feels like a bad punch line. I get it we finally got the blood. From a Christian perspective, I had a bit of hard time with this movie. I mean, I think it is great when a movie comes out and says people are basically bad. We all sit through too many movies where the message is that people deep, often at times very deep, down are good. I still think this film comes off as anti-Christian, but at least it contains an important Biblical truth that our culture does it's best to sweep under a rug. In general, if you think you can deal with the anti-Christian content, it's worth viewing at least once, or, for that matter, for movie buffs just to see that Mr. Anderson is human like us, too.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Greg Nielsen, age 23
Neutral—Positives: Very interesting music—a lot of violins and unusual percussion. Well, not so much unusual, just not ordinary. Some piano work thrown in for good measure… strange tempos… altogether an eclectic mix of sounds set to a western, turn-of-the-20th-century backdrop. The story is incredibly original, smart, and unpredictable. A lot of attention to detail was put into the screenplay and into creating and sustaining an atmosphere of always being on edge, like something was about to pop or explode at any moment. The fact that such a plot about an oil tycoon could be conjured up and rendered in this way is indeed amazing. Daniel Day Lewis is a stellar actor; I loved him in Gangs of New York, and albeit The Last of the Mohicans was a snooze, his versatility bled through. In this new flick, D.D.L. bears an uncanny resemblance (both in demeanor and looks) to John Glover's Lionel Luthor from Smallville. He managed to bring an extraordinary presence to his character Daniel Plainfield, a man who is unequivocally dark, mysterious, driven, and calculating. Did I mention he has a sweet 'stache? :P Negatives: Plainfield drops GD several times. He denounces and curses his adopted son at the end of the movie; by this time, he's heartless, old, and greedy beyond all belief. It's no surprise though by the time the third act rolls around. Everything leading up to this point is suggestive of Plainfield's ultimate self-destruction. The real doozy is the young preacher Eli of the “church of the 3rd revelation.” He fits a lot of the christian nutball archetypes (to build contrast in this story, the preacher is given the role of the antagonist, while Plainfield is the anti-hero, but nonetheless the main attraction). Naturally, the over-zealous Eli bumps elbows with Plainfield, and what ensues is a long, bitter and ambivalent relationship with our leading man. In the end, Eli is brutally murdered with a bowling pin. Of course, there is no retribution… no justice served. Just a cold-blooded murder… Egad.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Jacob Keenum, age 21
Negative—This movie wasn't really what I expected. Daniel-Day Lewis’ performance was all that it was cracked up to be, but I didn't care much for the movie itself. In the end, it wasn't really about anything but one man's misery and greed. The movie was well crafted and engaging most of the time, but at the end I still wasn't sure what the point was. High in fiber, low in calories, so to speak. Although the preacher in the movie wasn't portrayed in a positive light, I would stop short of calling it anti-Christian.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Neal, age 20
Negative—Depressing. I do not relate to all of the positive reviews. The strength of the film is its portrayal of the turn-of-the-century oil era with some very realistic and well shot drilling scenes. Other than that the movie just goes on way too long with a series of unredeeming character interactions. Both Daniel Day Lewis's character and Paul Dano's character are really unpleasant. There are no protagonists. Greed, hypocrisy and vengeance dominate the film all the way to its bloody ending.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 2½
—Todd Adams, age 40
Negative—This movie was extremely offensive to me. I felt like I needed to repent for watching it. I was actually very surprised that your reviewers didn't make a bigger deal out of the way Christians were portrayed in this movie. In my opinion that was the most offensive thing about the movie. I was appalled at how “The Church” was portrayed. The preacher and the congregation both acted like people who needed to be committed to a mental institution. Not only that, Eli Sunday and his father were also portrayed as abusive. The whole movie was a mockery of Christianity. Although the acting was definitely Oscar worthy, I mean the actors were exceptional, the movie was slow and somewhat strange. It moved slowly and at times was somewhat hard to follow. As a Christian, I would not recommend it to anyone to watch, I would not see it again, and wish I had never seen it at all. It left me feeling depressed and disheartened.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Priscilla, age 34
Negative—I can't say how much I hated this movie. The main reasons are: 1) It depicts Christianity in a very evil and slanderous way. A major element of this film is a young “preacher” and a “church” which the local people are very committed to. The preacher and the church were cartoonish in their evil, bizarre and kooky beliefs, and in their mean behavior. 2) The central character is a rotten man. He is an industrious and, in many ways, successful businessman. However, he hates people in general, is murderous, and full of selfish ambition. He appears to be a socialist's cartoonish view of “greedy” capitalism. 3) The “music” was very grating and annoying, for quite a bit of the movie. This noise is akin to fingernails on a blackboard. It seemed intentional, to create an uneasy mood. However, it was just very unpleasant—not something I want to hear in my living room. 4) There was very little depicted in the movie that was noble, uplifting, encouraging, or virtuous. Overall, I thought this movie was evil and useless nihilism. It's primary statement is that people and life are rotten, then you die. It's depiction of Christianity and capitalism are not just cartoonish, but seem to be intentionally slanderous.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 2
—Jim, age 47
Movie Critics
…young, baby-faced, self-righteous Pentecostal preacher, played very poorly by Paul Dano. THERE WILL BE BLOOD is ruined by the atrocious, superficial, unbelievable, mean-spirited, anti-Christian portrayal of the Christian preacher. … one of the most anti-Christian movies of the year…
…extracts money, power, and struggle to epic effect… great big funny, scary, deliriously one-of-a-kind movie… This is a movie we can almost completely feel. But its physicality is only part of Anderson's achievement. …
—Wesley Morris, Boston Globe
…Daniel Day Lewis is widely expected to win an Oscar nomination for his portrayal…
—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
…Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson (“Magnolia”) creates a portrait reminiscent of great '70s westerns like Jeremiah Johnson, slowly and methodically, with a minimum of dialogue. …
—Chris Farnsworth, E!
…There are two main characters. The filmmaker does his best to spotlight one of them as a snake oil hypocrite Christian, without including even the slightest portrait of someone else living a life of religious devotion. …
—Phil Boatwright, Preview Family Movie and TV Review