A word that was thrown around a lot when There Will Be Blood was released theatrically was “epic.” Certainly the movie is epic in the scope of its story, spanning some 30 years and taking place amidst the rural atmosphere of small towns and villages in the western United States at the beginning of the 20th century. It is indeed epic in the view of the camera, which takes in these landscapes and presents the humans that inhabit them as uniquely small in comparison.
But this is not an epic movie. Instead it’s a very intimate drama about one man and his struggles to be subject to neither another man or his own emotions, what there are of them.
Of course as you likely well know the central figure is Daniel Plainview, played by the remarkable Daniel Day-Lewis. It’s almost impossible for me to put his story into words other than to say it’s one driven by conflict. He runs into conflicts with the people whose land he needs to extend his oil drilling operations. He encounters conflicts with the charismatic preacher of Little Boston who wants to use his town’s oil resources as leverage to extend his own agenda. Finally he enters into conflict with the by then grown boy who Plainview took under his care when the boy’s own father was killed in a drilling accident.
Despite the abrasive (a vast understatement) nature of Plainview, Day-Lewis never portrays him as a complete monster, even when he’s taking another man’s life. Instead Plainview is infused with much humanity, even if much of it is representative of the worst of human nature.
It’s not necessarily that he dislikes people. He just holds a cynical view of the human race and believes most people will do little that doesn’t directly benefit them or serve their selfish interests. And he’s yet to be proven wrong in that regard. So he rubs people the wrong way as a defense mechanism, to keep them at a safe distance until he’s proven right and that there is no good in them.
I can’t say I liked There Will Be Blood on the same level of No Country for Old Men, but it’s still better than just about anything else you’re going to find to rent or buy right now. The movie never loses its focus on the human drama and is populated by actors that never allow their characters to become ciphers or stock caricatures.
The story is based on an Upton Sinclair novel from the early part of the century called Oil and an excerpt from that book, an excerpt that includes one of the key bits of dialogue from the movie, appears on the inside of the two-disc DVD package I was sent to review. That’s a nice nod to the story’s origins.
The rest of the DVD set is made up of historical footage from the era the movie is partly set in and a few behind-the-scenes bits of footage. But the primary draw is the movie and it doesn’t disappoint.