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Yes, Daniel Day-Lewis is that good

POSTED: February 29, 2008 5:01 a.m.
/Paramount Vantage

Daniel Day-Lewis, right, and Paul Dano in a scene from "There Will Be Blood."

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Finally, we can see what everyone has been talking about!

"There Will Be Blood" was released to a few theaters on both coasts several weeks ago and the buzz around it has grown exponentially ever since. It has already won numerous awards and ranked best of the year by many critics. Most of the country, though, has had to wait for it to come to town. The critical kudos and the long wait have made this 2007 movie one of the most-hyped movies of the new year.

So the question is obvious: Does it live up to the lofty expectations?

Yes and no. But mostly yes.

Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson ("Magnolia") turns his stylized eye toward that pivotal period in American history when oil prospecting grew into the industrial backbone that it is now. Adapting parts of Upton Sinclair’s novel "Oil!," "There Will Be Blood" follows Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) from his beginnings as a hand-digging prospector until he makes himself into a wealthy oil man.

Along the way, Plainview adopts as his own the infant son of a co-worker who dies on the job, develops a kinship with a man (Kevin J. O’Connor) who may or may not be his half-brother and clashes repeatedly with a young evangelical preacher (Paul Dano) whose ambitions nearly equal those of Plainview.

For sheer filmmaking craft, Anderson is as good as anyone currently working. His choice of imagery and his camera work are stunning and sophisticated enough to make his epic, three-hour films feel like they are racing by.

His other films display an ability to make drab, indoor settings come alive. Here, he has the maturity to let the landscape speak for itself rather than overdoing it with an acrobatic camera. This is a masterful work of photography.

Much of the film’s hype is over Day-Lewis’ performance. Critics might be guilty of inflating the worth of the whole film, but not of Day-Lewis’ performance.

Yes, he’s really that good. His portrayal of Daniel Plainview is possibly the role for which he will always be remembered, which is saying something given his career.

"There Will Be Blood" taps into some of the same veins of the American character as "Citizen Kane," "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" and "Greed."

The rival strains of ultra-competitive capitalism and fervent Christianity that have largely shaped American culture are boiled down to very human levels here. These are humanistic characters, but they are also symbols of the nation’s core ideals.

Problems arise when religious figures function like businessmen and when business is operated with the fervor of evangelism. Both tend to nurture the evils in real men, and that is the central theme of "There Will Be Blood."

In those respects, the movie absolutely fulfills expectations, no matter how high. It is a quintessential American film.

On the other hand, just like those classics mentioned above, it may suffer from trying to do too much. The story itself is rather simple, but it is blown up to epic proportions. You’ll have to judge whether the story works on that scale.

The competition for best film of 2007 is clearly a two-film race, between "Blood" and "No Country for Old Men." Each deserves what I consider the highest possible compliment: This is a true viewing experience.

Each manages to say something about both humanity and American culture. Even with a few flaws, that ain’t half bad.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.



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