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01/15/2008 - THERE WILL BE BLOOD


Though the title makes it sound like a low-budget horror flick, THERE WILL BE BLOOD is in fact a drama about an American oilman determined to strike it rich in turn-of-the-(last)-century California. Now there have been a tidal wave of accolades proclaiming BLOOD the Best Movie of the Year, and I would have to agree that the film is the best in several major categories.

However, for all the talent on display, I believe BLOOD falls short of its Best Movie of the Year honors for one important reason - the flawed screenplay.

Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (BOOGIE NIGHTS, MAGNOLIA) and loosely based on the novel "Oil!" by Upton Sinclair, BLOOD certainly delivers some of the best filmmaking of 2007:

It has the Best Direction - Anderson composes the parched, forbidding landscapes the oilmen scour in their search for crude (supposedly Central California, but actually shot on location in Texas and New Mexico) in a manner so visually striking that the images often burn themselves into your memory.

It has the Best Music - Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood has come up with an offbeat, almost atonal score that gives BLOOD an eerie, menacing feel that keeps you gripped even when nothing in particular is happening on screen.

Above all, it has the Best Acting - as oilman Daniel Plainview, Daniel Day-Lewis gives a performance that can only be described as titanic, a searing portrayal of a man who slowly destroys what is good and humane within him in a single-minded quest for money and power. Day-Lewis is so exceptional, and his John Huston-tinged American accent is so flawless, that one often forgets he is acting - Day-Lewis inhabits the role totally, making it seem as if it's only Plainview up there on the screen, not a movie star from Britain. Day-Lewis makes sure to give Plainview's financial rise and moral fall a tragic power as well. Plainview is not a one-dimensional bad guy - in the beginning, he shows courage and tenderness, so his irrevocable descent into greed, cruelty and paranoia is almost painful to watch. After seeing Day-Lewis' performance, it's inconceivable that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences could choose anyone else for Best Actor of 2007.

Unfortunately, where BLOOD doesn't prove to be the best is in the screenplay category. That's because the central conflict - the thing that drives your story forward and gives it pace and momentum - is rather weak. BLOOD's central conflict is between Plainview and the hypocritical, equally power-hungry preacher/"faith-healer" Eli Sunday (played by LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE's Paul Dano). That's all well and good, but Plainview wins this conflict fairly early and fairly easily, even to the point of beating Sunday to a pulp in public. Soon afterwards, Sunday recedes into the background as a threat, dropping out of the plot for long stretches of the picture, and taking the central conflict with him.

Without a central conflict to drive the story forward, BLOOD meanders during its Second Act, throwing a succession of different storylines our way (Plainview's young son is injured; Plainview and his son grow apart; Plainview meets his half-brother and takes him on as a confidant) to fill out its over two-and-a-half-hour running time. It's true each of these storylines is intriguing in and of itself, especially with Day-Lewis' performance to energize them, but the "this happens and then this happens" structure still causes the film to drift, and our attention along with it.

It's only towards the end of the picture when Sunday resurfaces to bedevil Plainview that the central conflict returns, driving the story forward once again till the final, shockingly memorable showdown between the two. But since BLOOD is almost over, this isn't quite enough to make up for the film's previous rambling.

Another issue with the script is that Plainview's right-hand man Fletcher Hamilton (Ciaran Hinds) is set up to be a pivotal player in the piece. But he doesn't pay off dramatically in any significant way, and comes off as a frustratingly extraneous character overall.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD is certainly one of the Best Movies of 2007, but because the script doesn't live up to the high quality of the directing, music and acting, it's ultimately not the Best Movie of 2007.

Responses, comments and general two-cents worth can be E-mailed to gillis662000@yahoo.com.

(Note: For all those who missed my past reviews, they're now archived on Hollywoodlitsales.com. Just click the link on the main page and it'll take you to the Inner Sanctum. Love them or Hate them at your leisure!)

A graduate of USC's School of Cinema-Television, Tom McCurrie has worked as a development executive, story analyst, screenwriter and teacher of screenwriting. He lives in Los Angeles and is finishing up (finally!) his first novel.


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