Drive for profit, salvation haunt 'Blood'

Daniel Day Lewis in 'There Will Be Blood'

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

AMY SCOTT: One industry enjoying strong holiday sales is the movie business. Box office receipts over the weekend jumped 36 percent over this time last year. Among the films opening this week is "There Will Be Blood." Daniel Day-Lewis stars as a wildcat oil driller in this loose adaptation of an Upton Sinclair novel. Commentator John Brady says the film offers a look at some uniquely American themes.


JOHN BRADY: Are you a member of the Junior League of American Entrepreneurs? Well on your way to acquiring your first 100 mil? Here's some advice. Go see Paul Thomas Anderson's stunning new film "There Will Be Blood." It will put some things into perspective.

"There Will Be Blood" is set during California's rough and tumble oil boom. In the teens and '20s of last century, California was all about oil. The state was the world's Saudi Arabia -- 70 percent of global crude flowed out of Golden State ground.

Daniel Plainview, portrayed with concentrated flintiness by Daniel Day-Lewis, is the focus of "There Will Be Blood." At the outset, Plainview's just a small-time prospector looking to get his share of this black gold. Through sheer force of will and some well-timed moments of lyin' and cheatin', he strikes it rich. But the road to hell is paved with oil leases. By film's end, Plainview is a broken man. Rest assured, there is blood.

Thankfully, Plainview is more than the screenland cliche of the self-destructive tycoon. He's a complex, stewing mix of drive, expertise, cunning, rough affection and violence. He's mean as spit, but capable of sudden bursts of warmth as well. He fascinates and repels.

Anderson also expresses some compelling symbolism. Plainview is bedeviled by a rival, Eli Sunday. Sunday is a fire-and-brimstone preacher in the same town where Plainview finds his gusher. Plainview wants oil. Eli Sunday wants souls. They really, really dislike each other. But this is more than a fight between two men. This is a fight between two primal forces of American life: business and religion.

Don't expect a pat resolution to this struggle. The dark, unsettling side of our country's enduring preoccupation with profit and salvation haunts this film. Anderson trusts his audience to grapple with his bleak vision. An excellent, challenging film is the result.

SCOTT: John Brady lives here in Los Angeles, where he writes about popular culture.

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