There Will Be Blood was not quite the movie I was expecting. Hollywood loves to tell stories about evil oilmen, not only because everyone hates oil companies these days, but also because petroleum itself makes such a great visual metaphor for evil, all black and slimy and oozy.
However this is not so much the story of an evil oilman as a mentally ill oilman. Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a superficially charming and plausible fellow, but this is a thin veneer that barely conceals a deep, violent and uncontrollable rage. Indeed the more intelligent characters seem to realize this after talking to him for a few minutes, but for various reasons, mostly their own greed, they are typically unable to distance themselves from him.
This is not particularly pleasant to watch, but I’m giving it a marginal recommendation because the movie is very, very well done. The scenes that show the dangerous businesses of mining and extracting oil at the beginning of the twentieth century are particularly fascinating.
Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance deserves all the praise it has received. I am reminded of James Gandolfini’s depiction of Tony Soprano: the characters have a similar repellent fascination. The main difference is that this character is even darker and crazier.
I was particularly amused by a scene in which Plainview is approached by representatives of the Standard Oil Company. These hard-boiled emissaries of a mighty monopoly are initially smug and confident, but he soon has them quaking in their boots.
Paul Dano also exudes a repellent fascination as a fanatical Pentecostal preacher who Plainview seems to regard as his personal nemesis.