Unmistakably a shot at greatness, Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood succeeds in wild, explosive ways. The film digs into nothing less than the sources of peculiarly American kinds of ambition, corruption, and industry--and makes exhilarating cinema from it all. Although inspired by Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel Oil!, Anderson has crafted his own take on the material, focusing on a black-eyed, self-made oilman named Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), whose voracious appetite for oil turns him into a California tycoon in the early years of the 20th century. The early reels are a mesmerizing look at the getting of oil from the ground, an intensely physical process that later broadens into Plainview's equally indomitable urge to control land and power. Curious, diverting episodes accumulate during Plainview's rise: a mighty derrick fire (a bravura opportunity that Anderson, with the aid of cinematographer Robert Elswit, does not fail to meet), a visit from a long-lost brother (Kevin J. O'Connor), the ongoing involvement of Plainview's poker-faced adoptive son (Dillon Freasier). As the film progresses, it gravitates toward Plainview's rivalry with the local representative of God, a preacher named Eli Sunday (brimstone-spitting Paul Dano); religion and capitalism are thus presented not so much as opposing forces but as two sides of the same coin. And the worm in the apple here is less man's greed than his vanity. Anderson's offbeat take on all this--exemplified by the astonishing musical score by Jonny Greenwood--occasionally threatens to break the film apart, but even when it founders, it excites. As for Daniel Day-Lewis, his performance is Olivier-like in its grand scope and its attention to details of behavior; Plainview speaks in the rum-rich voice of John Huston, and squints with the wariness of Walter Huston. It's a fearsome performance, and the engine behind the film's relentless power. --Robert Horton
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