Oil, Money, Religion and 'Blood' in California

There Will Be Blood, a new film starring Daniel Day-Lewis, is a morality play set in the early days of California's oil boom. It involves the unholy trinity of oil, money and religion.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

There's only a few days in this year, but in Hollywood there's still time to open a movie that could be nominated for an Oscar next month, end of the year is the deadline.

MORNING EDITION and Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan reviews one of those Oscar hopefuls, "There Will Be Blood."

KENNETH TURAN: The joint venture between actor Daniel Day-Lewis and director Paul Thomas Anderson is the most incendiary combination since the Molotov cocktail.

It's a morality play set in the early days of California's oil boom. It can be over the top and excessive. But it also creates heat and light. The story that intrigued these two men started with Upton Sinclair's muck-raking 1927 novel "Oil." The new movie is a timely and modern tale that involves the unholy trinity of oil, money and religion.

The main conflict in the film is between Day-Lewis' ruthless oilman Daniel Plainview and a charismatic preacher and faith healer named Eli Sunday played by the quietly effective Paul Dano. Sunday's no more godly than Plainview and they're psychological and even physical combat is savagery itself.

(Soundbite of movie, "There Will Be Blood")

Mr. PAUL DANO (Actor): (As Eli Sunday) My offer to you is $3,700.

Mr. DANIEL DAY-LEWIS (Actor): (As Daniel Plainview) What it is that brought you here, sir?

Mr. DANO: (As Eli Sunday) The good Lord's guidance.

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) We have oil here. That's worth something.

Mr. DANO: (As Eli Sunday) Do you think there's oil here?

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) I know there is.

Mr. DANO: (As Eli Sunday) Oh, it's very expensive to drill.

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) Well, our oil sits right up on top of the ground.

Mr. DANO: (As Eli Sunday) Doesn't necessarily mean there's anything underneath.

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) What would you give us for it?

Mr. DANO: (As Eli Sunday) I don't know.

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) Something you don't know.

TURAN: "There Will Be Blood" has the impact it does because Day-Lewis and Anderson share a ferocity of approach to their work. The director, a modern cinematic visionary, is always happiest when he is held on the aesthetic edge. As for the actor, he's become justifiably celebrated for disappearing into his characters with a completeness that is terrifying.

"There Will Be Blood" is Western to its core. It presents a vast uncaring environment that dwarfs the grasping men, determined to wrest hidden wealth from the earth. Anderson has said that John Huston's treatise on madness and greed, "The Treasure of Sierra Madre" was the touchstone movie for him here.

If "There Will Be Blood" has a weakness, it's in the didactic nature of its script. This might be a legacy of novelist Sinclair, a socialist who wrote for political purpose more than dramatic effect. This is a film that loves to go to extremes, and we're fortunate to be along for the ride.

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

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