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"Oil!" Is Thicker Than "Blood"


The scene is a dusty oil field in rural California just after the turn of the last century. An eruption of oil blows through the derrick of Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) and harms his young son, H.W., who may have been deafened by the blast. Plainview grabs the boy and runs him back to safety, but he's torn between the tragedy and the triumph of the moment. There is little doubt, however, how he will choose. Though the boy is terrified to be left in his new silence, the father abandons him to be with his oil. Why do you look so glum? Plainview asks an associate as the flames subside. "There's an ocean of oil under our feet!"

"There Will Be Blood" has an ocean of talent under it as well, led by "Boogie Nights" director Paul Thomas Anderson and Day-Lewis, who put forth great effort to create a memorable character and his color-desaturated world (think Terrence Malick's "Days of Heaven" without the heaven). Following the grasping, scheming Plainview, his associates and the yokels unlucky to do business with them, Anderson and Day-Lewis have drawn an almost complete picture of oil prospecting much the way the director covered the world of pornography in "Boogie Nights," with finely attuned attention to the details of character and motivation. The two give Plainview no sympathy, painting him as a misanthrope possessed by greed. Excited when a long-lost brother appears, Plainview asks him whether he's envious and if he loathes people -- you know, to make sure he's really his brother.

As he showed with "Magnolia," Anderson is only unsteady when trying to grasp at greater philosophical questions beyond his characters. Yet it's disappointing to wait in vain for "Blood" to dig for the social implications of oil prospecting found in its source, Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel "Oil!" Anderson was wise to retitle his work — with the focus squarely on Plainview, the movie subtly shows what crude does to body, mind and soil — but the loss is as impressive as the gain. "There Will Be Blood," even at more than two and a half hours, leaves an ocean of implications unmined. (R) 158 min. S

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