As the misanthropic oilman in “There Will Be Blood,” Daniel Day-Lewis turns in a performance close to being literally spellbinding, burning with a presence ferocious enough to singe the corners of the screen. It’s an extraordinary portrayal, but it ‘s only one aspect of a riveting film experience.
Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson has only five feature-length pictures to his credit, but is among the most unique visionaries currently in American cinema. “There Will Be Blood,” very loosely based on the Upton Sinclair novel “Oil!,” illustrates much of what makes the director’s work so fascinating and, occasionally, just baffling. The film is audacious, nearly operatic in its conflict and melodrama, but it also belies a depth and nuance that has been less evident in Anderson’s previous efforts.
At first blush, “There Will Be Blood” appears to be about greed in the American character, particularly its corrupting influence in business and religion. Like the oil derricks that make Day-Lewis’ character of Daniel Plainview wealthy, however, the film digs deeper. The ugliness that pervades Anderson’s worldview stems from competition and the resentment it spawns. Plainview doesn’t necessarily want to succeed; he wants the rest of society to crash and burn.
That ominous vibe occasionally pulls “Blood” into somewhat unhinged territory. Plainview and company are volatile characters, but their unpredictability gives the film a weirdly exhilarating edge. Anything can happen, Anderson tells us “ and anything does.