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A rush of ‘Blood’ — and it will be red

By C. Glen Bellamy

“There Will Be Blood”Paramount VantageDirected by Paul Thomas AndersonScreenplay by Paul Thomas Anderson, based on the novel Oil!, by Upton Sinclair

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Ciarán Hinds, Kevin J. O’Connor and Dillon Freasier

Rated R/158 minutes.Opens Jan. 18, 2008Four out of four stars

When looking for insights into the American soul, the heart of capitalism and the roots of our own humanity, it’s hard to find anything new to say. On film, it’s an increasingly difficult task. Countless films have chronicled the grand ambitions of America — and Americans.

Ambition can make a man great, or it can destroy him. Heard that before. As long as there have been American movies, there have been piercing critiques of greed, capitalism and the savage forms that competition and ambition take.

Words won’t do it, either. Whether or not we’ve read Upton Sinclair’s Oil!, the general feeling of blood on our hands en route to the American Dream has pervaded our culture for decades.

And so it’s only fitting that Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest masterpiece, “There Will Be Blood,” begins without words, without messages. A tone is set from the opening shots of mountainous landscapes accompanied by the jarring strings of Radiohead guitarist/composer Jonny Greenwood’s anxious, angry score. With little more than ambient sound and images of the brutal, rocky, dusty panorama which surrounds us, we see the tedious, silent work of Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis). The comparisons to the Dawn of Man sequence from “2001: A Space Odyssey” can’t be overlooked.

Like the discovery of tools and weaponry and the civilization-changing monolith in director Stanley Kubrick’s opus, “There Will Be Blood” is charting the beginning of the oil prospecting industry from its primitive beginnings to its destiny as a bastion of cutthroat capitalism.

What Anderson captures is something that can only be achieved through cinema — the unique combination of sight and sound that is found nowhere else. He sets a mood — eerie, ominous, scary — that will carry through the rest of the film.

With the help of his adopted son H.W. Plainview (Dillon Freasier), Daniel will rise from a simple silver miner to a titan of the oil industry.

In exploring the depths of the American soul — both the good and the bad, the romantic and the tragic — Anderson doesn’t try to stretch himself too thin. He explores everything he needs to through the visage of one man, and all he comes in contact with. In one of the most thrillingly visceral performances in years — providing a perfect bombastic focus for the heavily stylized examination of American history — Day-Lewis is the misanthropic anti-hero through which everything will be built up, and crumble down.

As he navigates around and within townships, churches, business associates, business rivals, family members, personal tragedies, personal sins — all in the name of the almighty dollar — Plainview’s very character is always in negotiation. He hates people, hates having to deal with them. Yet he has to put on the charming face — and that of his cute young son — in order to get any business at all.

He gets what he wants, and yet still must compromise — this time with the off-puttingly gentle but smarmy pastor, Eli Sunday (Paul Dano). Slowly descending into human disconnect and practical madness, his anxiety and agitation with the world — and those who inhabit it — collide dangerously with the sheer largesse of his goals.

The unforgiving nature of his character is essential to the text of the film. Anderson, never one for subtlety, is scouring the American soul like an open wound. This is not historical reminiscence — it is pure operatic tragedy. It plays out like a mad symphony of passion and anger and hatred, always teetering on the brink of spinning wildly out of control.

The film has an almost old-fashioned feel at times, borrowing stylistically and thematically from several classics from the 1940s and 1950s — films that similarly opened the book on history and took a good, long look at who we are and why we came to be that way.

Yet “There Will Be Blood” is strikingly modern, and strikes a chord not so much with what it says, but with how it says it. In fact, I would argue that what is being put across by Anderson, Day-Lewis and Greenwood is something too multifaceted to be defined. It is emotional, cultural, primal, carnal — not literal. Neither political treatise nor traditional drama, “There Will Be Blood” is a rush of blood to our collective head.

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