NPR logo 'There Will Be Blood'

'There Will Be Blood'

Daniel Day-Lewis plays Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, a film based on Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel Oil. Francois Duhamel/Paramount Vantage hide caption

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Francois Duhamel/Paramount Vantage
  • Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 158 min

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'I Will Bless the Well'

'There Will Be Blood' Trailer

To music that sounds like a hive of angry bees, Daniel Day-Lewis falls down an oil well he's digging and breaks his foot — his left foot — in the opening moments of Paul Thomas Anderson's oil epic. Based on Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel Oil, about a clash of capitalism and religion at the turn of the last century, this sometimes magnificent, decidedly strange film is a portrait of a terrible, rapacious man.

The American Dream, or perhaps simple greed, has turned him into a sociopath, though there are moments when he seems briefly empathetic — adopting the infant son of a fellow well-digger who's killed in an accident, or opening up his life to a stranger who shows up claiming to be a brother he never knew he had.

These flashes of humanity don't turn out well, however, and the character's as hard to like as he is hardbitten. A young preacher played obsessively by Paul (Little Miss Sunshine) Dano is no easier to warm up to. And few other performers make much impression. But the imagery — an oil boom town is built before your eyes, then nearly burns down in a Western landscape that seems a character in its own right — is undeniably powerful.

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Anderson, an indie director with a streak of intriguing art-film hits to his credit (Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Punch-Drunk Love) proves to have a real eye for epic filmmaking, though with a screenplay that sometimes goes for half an hour without a word being spoken, an extreme, violent ending, and a running time that stretches to 158 minutes, that film ends up seeming a blunter instrument than it might.