Ian Berke, realtor and real estate in San Francisco
Ian's Listings
SF listings
About SF
About Ian
Ian's List
Film Reviews
Stone Books
Legal & Privacy

tel 415.921.7300
cell 415.860.2777

DRE #444020


Film Review

There Will Be Blood

Citizen Kane is one of the greatest American films ever made, if not the greatest, and changed films forever. With a story clearly influenced by Orson Wells, the director Paul Thomas Anderson has just produced an amazing epic, spanning 30 years, that follows a hard rock miner on his tortured path to an oil empire in California. The film opens in 1898, with views of stark dry hills, then Daniel Plainview, in a spectacular performance by Daniel Day Lewis, as a dirt poor miner working his tiny mine. Those scenes are riveting and claustrophobic, with Plainview using his pick to laboriously follow a vein. An accident follows, and soon we see him lying on the floor of an assay office, with broken leg, while the assayers determine that he has indeed found some silver, but not the mother lode. Four years later he is in Southern California digging an oil well, when there is another accident. The father of a small baby boy dies, and Plainfield decides to raise the man's son. It is now 1911, and Plainfield continues to prospect for oil. His young son, HW, follows him everywhere, observing, but never saying much. Plainfield clearly loves the child in his gruff way. Plainfield is gifted talker, who convinces a tiny destitute desert community, Little Boston, to sell him the drilling rights under their town. "I am an oil man ......., and a family man", with HW at his side almost as a prop. They are persuaded, Plainfield constructs a derrick, and begins to drill. And in one of the more memorable scenes in any film, hits oil. One day a young man comes into his office offering to sell him information as to the location of an oil seep on his family's small ranch, which the young man correctly thinks is valuable. Plainfield reluctantly agrees, goes to the poor goat ranch, and under the guise of quail hunting, locates the oil seep. Plainfield tries to convince the owner, a pious old man with an evangelistic son, to sell him the ranch. The son, Eli, soon takes over the negotiations, with the money promised for a church that Eli wants to start, the Church of the Third Revelation. At this point, the film is only a third of the way through the story, and I do not want to reveal any more. Suffice to say, there are many many more revelations (good pun, as you will see).

The camera work is outstanding: from shots inside a tiny gloomy mine and later, oil excavations, to the sweeping panoramas of small tent towns in a vast semi-desert, we see an early 20th century America, gritty, mostly very poor, but beginning to develop. Anderson uses close up shots of faces, some for minutes, as when Plainfield is addressing a crowd. We see every bristle on his unshaven cheeks, his dirty face, and mottled teeth. Similar close ups of conversations between characters are well done. The mining and drilling scenes seemed highly realistic to this writer, who graduated from the Colorado School of Mines and worked a summer in a copper mine. The workings of the primitive rig are examined closely, and seem both lyric and ominous simultaneously. So many scenes are unforgettable and so American, especially those of the evangelical Eli preaching and healing.

Daniel Day Lewis almost becomes unrecognizable as an actor as he transforms himself into Daniel Plainfield. His speech is precise, slow, and with a peculiar accent. He is brilliant, and completely disappears into the role. His young son, HW, is well played by Dillon Frasier, and later by Russell Harvard, when grown. Eli is played by Paul Dano, who is outstanding and able to match Lewis's powerful role. Again, all of the characters, from the townspeople to the rig workers, are well developed and seem real. The film maintains a tremendous tension throughout, especially in the first half. Music is minimal, mostly modern bass notes, and later, classical pieces, but always muted, all very effective in helping maintain the anticipation of dark things.

There Will be Blood is essentially a tragic history of a man, a loner, whose greed, malign instincts, and ruthlessness turn him into a monster. "I want no one else to succeed..... I hate everyone", says Plainfield to his brother. Obsessed with finding oil, not interested in women, only alcohol and his affection for his son seem to bring him only less unhappiness, never happiness. The parallels with Charles Foster Kane are particularly strong here, all set against the background of the exploration and development of oil in Southern California. It is also strongly reminiscent of Giant, with its story of Jett Rink (played by James Dean), against the background of Texas oil. But Anderson's film is much darker and more realistic, as we expect our films to be today. The conflict between Plainfield and Eli is such an American story: the clash between capitalism and religion, personified by two powerful characters, both obsessed and charismatic in their own way. This is only Anderson's fifth film (Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, & Punch-Drunk Love) in ten years; all have been good, some very good, but this is easily his most accomplished. Blood is a real epic, powerful, complex, and with a sweep that has few recent parallels. It would be a crime to see this film on anything but the big screen, but unfortunately it just opened at the Century complex at Bloomingdales. It was originally scheduled to open at the Kabuki, and may yet do so. But for now it is the mega-complex on Mission Street. Despite this, don't miss it. It is long, 158 minutes, but never lags. There Will Be Blood is dramatic and unforgettable, but not a guy film by any means. It is true greatness on the screen and surely will become an American classic.

Return to the List of Film Reviews


Home | Ian's Listings | SF listings | Rentals | Architecture | About SF | About Ian |
Ian's List | Legal & Privacy | ian@ianberke.com | © 2009- ianberke.com