Saturday, February 16, 2008

There Will Be Blood

Black Gold

Money is the root of all evil. It's needed to fuel the economy, and it's needed to further various gains, be it personal, political, and even religious to a certain extent. Too much money and people will see green, wanting to know the secret formula to creating and hoarding wealth, because of the various forms of satisfying utility that comes with the spending of money. And precious commodity like oil which is in high demand, automatically equates to wads of cold hard cash.

Written and directed by Paul Thomas Andersen, There Will Be Blood brings us to the early 20th century, where it chronicles the exploits of a certain Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), who discovers oil deposits during silver mining, and hedges a bet on the right horse. Calling himself an oil man, he designs his persona as being a humble family man, with his adopted child H.W., so as to lower his level of threat as he goes around acquiring land which has the prospect on sitting upon oceans of oil buried deep down. It's a very shrewd move, and a card that he plays to perfection, hiding a cruel mean streak that he possesses deep within.

A teenager approaches him one day with leads that his family and the entire neighbourhood of simple rural folk, are sitting atop a potential gold mine. Without further ado, Daniel and son qualifies this lead, and hurriedly entice the folks to sell their estate to him. And here's where the compelling argument for the proposal take place, where even you'll be hard pressed not to agree with, of the boost in the local economy that the oil money will bring - better infrastructure, better crops for food, educational opportunities, jobs all round, and the likes. But Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) plays the hard game with Daniel, and requests for a church to be built for him, to further his ambition of being the defacto faith healer in the community.

And of course, such deal breakers are never in the good books of shrewd businessmen like Daniel, and the two of them set down the path of adversity, with the playing of games with each other, obvious snubbing, and total disgust. We see how the upper hand swings and shifts from one character to the other in their struggle for power over the community - one through the economy, the other through religion. And it is this battle which made me get interested and sit up.

There are some very acute observations about the abuse of religion in this movie, and the exploitation of it for ulterior motives, gains, and self-preservation, cannot be highlighted in terms more stark than those here. For money, one can sell the soul to the devil, or turn religious should support be able to be garnered from the support group. For money or power over the masses, false prophets inch their way to top positions so as to have absolute command and control over their followers. To save one's skin, one can deny their Lord whom they exalt in the loudest voice day in day out, although this is no big deal for false prophets since their faith is placed on the moolah instead.

I will count my chicken before it hatches, and say Daniel Day-Lewis will win that Best Actor Oscar this year, without a doubt. He will be robbed of that accolade should he not win it, as it was a really fascinating transformation to his character, and I still admire how Day-Lewis the person fades away into the character he portrays. His oil man is nothing but a ruthless businessman who will stop at nothing, not even murder, to fulfill his goals. His deep resonating voice is strangely hypnotic, and he presents a character that you will so love to hate, and probably be fearful of, along the way. Relative newcomer Paul Dano holds his own against the acclaimed veteran, and his Eli character exudes a sense of seediness that you can't help but cheer when he gets his just desserts. With the both of them having a chance to have a go at each other, I thought Dano really took up the opportunity to let it rip.

It's a pretty long movie, sad to say you can feel its length. It unveils itself very slowly, and the first 20 minutes are pretty much devoid of any speaking parts, as you follow the designing and building of land based oil rigs, as well as the process to bring out the black gold. But there are some brilliant scenes in the movie which are worth their weight in gold, coupled with the beautiful cinematography and art direction, transporting you back to the turn of the century. The last third of the movie seemed to pick up the pace but felt somewhat rushed, but the superb acting and ending more than make up for the shortcomings along the way.

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