Saturday, March 08, 2008

Mister Derrick

There Will Be Blood, Cineworld, Broad Street, Birmingham, Wednesday March 5 2008, 4.45pm.

The last time we remember cinema looking into what happens when a prospector strikes lucky, Nicolas Roeg's neglected masterpiece Eureka (1983) asked the question: what happens when a man gets everything he wants? In contrast to Gene Hackman's self-made man Jack ('I've Never Made A Nickel From Another Man's Sweat') McCann in that film, however, Daniel Day Lewis' Daniel Painview in Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood (2008) is less a rounded personality than a physical manifestation of the will to power, a relentless one-man force of capitalist growth that can never by definition be satiated. Plainview is portrayed as a virtually sexless man, with only the vaguest yearnings for family bonding occasionally softening his edge, who seeks to impose his masculinity on the earth through his big fuck-off drills that are ultimately superceded by his big fuck-off pipeline that pulses and disseminates his oil.

Religion, in the shape of Paul Dano's preacher Eli, attempts to establish a moral conscience on Plainview, but succeeds only in nipping at his ankles, a nuisance too easily swatted away because you can never bullshit a bullshitter with total success, and the man-of-the-cloth's lies, hypocrisy and greed are all too easily seen through by the prospector for whom the truth is never acknowledged or spoken if there's any chance of it hindering profit and progress.

In many ways There Will Be Blood should have won the Best Film Oscar along with the Best Actor nod for Daniel Day-Lewis. It's rare indeed that a film with one such dominant role could reverberate with such political and historical resonance, and you could boil this movie down for eternity and still not find an ounce of fat - everything you see and hear serves a purpose of exposition, and that's even more scarce during a 150-min. running time. But given that There Will Be Blood holds up a mirror to the lies and corruption that helped lay the foundations of modern California, perhaps it's not so surprising that the Hollywood heirarchy found the Coen Brothers' admittedly marvellous but nevertheless relatively unfocused No Country For Old Men a more palatable prospect.

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