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Blood and oil mix well

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It’s the era of blood and oil, so it’s not surprising that a lot of it has begun to splatter onto the big screen. In “There Will Be Blood,” director and screenwriter Paul Thomas Anderson uses both elements to great effect in telling the epic story of a land-grabbing California prospector at the turn of the last century. Daniel Day Lewis stars at Daniel Plainview, a man so driven by his lust for petroleum that you expect him to start bleeding crude. At the outset of the 2 hour and 38 minute film, the audience meets Plainview in 1898, swinging a pick axe deep under the Golden State’s arid plains. Alone and undaunted he plods on breaking rocks and setting dynamite charges. The operation goes haywire and the would-be tycoon is left struggling to haul himself out of a deep hole and miles of super-heated desert stones. Funny thing is Plainview is never happier. This guy hates his fellow man and has enough bile in his belly to revile the next gusher of “Texas tea.” Sadly, the ambitious Plainview must deal with people – a whole lot of 'em –on his quest to fleece every landowner as far as the eye can see out of his land. He may be a character out of a bygone era – the film is an adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s seminal novel “Oil!” – but Plainview is instantly recognizable here as every modern land developer and media mogul reaching for more and more while painting himself as a superhuman worthy of it all in the process. Set loose on the wide open California terrain, it appears as if there’s no force on earth strong enough to oppose Plainview’s will. But then he crosses paths with Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), a young revivalist preacher who’s just as fanatical about the holy spirit as Plainview is about oil. Oil brings the two men together, and blood is the only thing that will squelch the ensuing fires of war. Daniel Day-Lewis once again immerses himself in the role so deeply that his performance is more time traveling than acting. A jarring musical score sets a tone of rising menace before the climax. Cherub-faced Dillion Freasier stars as Plainview’s dutiful son H.W. Raised on an oil rig and literally baptized with the brown goo, H.W. struggles with hero worship and the growing realization that his dear ol' dad is a cheat. Plainview, on the other hand, seems to only value his son for his ability to put a family-friendly face on his robber-baron business practices. “This is my son H.W.,” he proclaims to all those about to be swindled out of their land. “I run a family business.” When little H.W. is rendered deaf in an oil rig explosion, however, the elder Plainview sends him packing like so much damaged goods. The stage is set for an explosive climax 25 years later, after Plainview has successfully built his own personal Xanadu on an ocean of oily greenbacks. By this time, Plainview’s course is set and what he discovers is that the past can turn up and wash away everything he has willed into existence. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Runtime 2 hours, 38 minutes. Rated R.

Updated 6:57 pm, October 10, 2011
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