This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
[ FILM OF THE WEEK ]
Where there’s a well…
THE MAIN EVENT > Paul Thomas Anderson’s impressive oil epic is a powerful evocation of exploitation
religion are conjoined as conﬂicting and symbiotic elements of our time. This hugely impressive film begins in the deserts of the American southwest, and no words are spoken during the ﬁrst 20 minutes as a lone prospector digs deep down underground. He’s like some mythical ﬁgure in his determination, endurance and suﬀering, and his exertions are accompanied by an extraordinary score by the British composer Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead that’s dissonant, occasionally lyrical, and uses strange combinations of strings and percussion. He draws on Bartók, Stravinsky, Messiaen and Arvo Pärt and right at the end of the movie calls in Brahms. When the prospector strikes silver and is stretched out with a damaged leg in an assay oﬃce, we learn his name when he signs a form ‘Daniel Plainview’. He uses his money to switch to oil drilling and eventually strikes it moderately rich and adopts the baby son of an employee killed down a well. Surrogate fathers of a dubious nature recur in Anderson’s work – the porn movie producer played by Burt Reynolds in Boogie Nights for instance, or, Philip Baker Hall’s gambler-assassin in Hard Eight – and Plainview is another example. Ten years later, established in the oil business, he uses this sweet-natured lad, whose milk he once laced with whiskey, as a front of warmth and respectability while gulling poor Californian farmers out of their land. One of his targets is the dirt-poor Sunday family who live on oil-rich land which becomes the basis for Plainview’s fortune. But in the process he enters into ﬁnancial obligations to the local population – schools, roads, water – and promises Eli Sunday backing for his fundamentalist church. This early rural California in 1911 is beautifully realised. It shows the far West in the process of change– moving from the horse to the automobile – and the local station and rundown township looks like sets from Bad Day at Black Rock and Once Upon a Time in the West. But it isn’t an idyll. Men die as the oil gushes forth, Plainview’s adopted son is seriously injured during a drilling accident, and little trickles down to the poor. We gradually realise that Plainview and Eli are in their diﬀerent ways deranged, and each is out to control or destroy the other. Initially the oilman seems a reasonable, ambitious entrepreneur, neatly dressed, always wearing a hat and tie, smiling seductively, speaking quietly and precisely. But the measured cadences, the drawn-out vowels, the sharp consonants reminded me strongly of someone, and I suddenly realised it was John Huston as Noah Cross, the ruthless Californian plutocrat and robber baron in Chinatown. Plainview refuses to be intimidated by or to strike bargains with competitors, but there is something much more than greed or independence in his character. ‘I don’t like to explain myself,’ he says, ‘I hate people… I have a compulsion to succeed… I want to earn enough to get away from everyone… I see the worst in people and things.’ Is this the product of a psychosis or is it what unbridled capitalism in its extreme form does to its exponents? Are such people and their visions necessary for human progress? Anderson’s ﬁlm and Day-Lewis’s performance, magniﬁcent in their horriﬁc, near-operatic grandeur, offer no easy answers. This
PHILIP FRENCH There Will Be Blood
(158 mins, 12A) Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Ciarán Hinds, Kevin J O’Connor, Dillon Freasier
The ﬁlm and Daniel Day-Lewis are magniﬁcent in their near-operatic, horriﬁc grandeur
is a deeply pessimistic, at times puzzling ﬁlm, and it seems to lack a political dimension central to Upton Sinclair’s life and work. Organised labour was a signiﬁcant force in the American West in the early 20th century, often involved in violent conﬂict. This has largely been ignored by Hollywood, and recently only the independ-
THIS FILM is Paul Thomas Anderson’s first since the curious Adam Sandler comedy Punch-Drunk Love five years ago. Dedicated to his mentor, Robert Altman, it’s inspired by a long-forgotten novel, Oil!, written in 1927 by the muckraking socialist author Upton Sinclair, now known largely for The Jungle, his ﬁctional account of the appalling conditions in the Chicago meat-packing industry that in 1906 led to crucial legislation. The ﬁlm’s resonantly Old Testament title comes from the seventh chapter of Exodus where God, via Moses, orders Aaron to smite the waters so that ‘they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt’. In the context of the film this biblical blood is oil, the contaminating element dealt in by its forceful central character, the demonic Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), oil tycoon and upholder of untrammelled capitalism. In early 20th -century California Plainview is set up against a young, charismatic preacher, Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), fanatical creator of the Church of the Third Revelation. The ironic name ‘Plainview’ is given to a seemingly benevolent straight dealer who operates covertly, and the preacher’s name inevitably evokes Billy Sunday, the most celebrated tub-thumping American evangelist of his day, a man in league with capitalism. In this parable, realistic in its depiction of every day life and symbolic in its force, oil and fundamentalist
ent producer-director John Sa shown interest in it. In 1927, the year Sinclair wrote Oil!, Louis B Mayer cr the Academy of Motion Pictur Sciences as a company union to keep labour organisers at bay. Sinclair ran for Gove on the EPIC (End Pove ticket, Mayer and the other s conspired with Hearst’ and radio s of the dirtiest political campaigns ev mounted. Sinclair lost to a time-serving Republican non-entity and Maye famously remark know about anything? He’s just a writer. It would be good to see him honoure this year by the academy Mayer cr There W now and on general release from Friday
A MAN APART
Read Peter Stanford’s recent interview with Daniel Day-Lewis at:
>> THREE TO SEE
Battle For Haditha (15) Nick Broomﬁeld brings his documentary skills to a scrupulous reconstruction of two deadly days in Iraq in 2005. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (15) Philip Seymour Hoﬀman in his third major role this year is outstanding as an over-reaching New Yorker planning a desperate heist. No Country For Old Men (15) The Coen brothers, Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones are at the top of their game in a screen version of Cormac McCarthy’s mordant border thriller.
To order this week’s reviewed CDs or DVDs just call
0870 836 0712
All prices include UK p&p. We endeavour to supply every CD or DVD featured, but in some cases availability is restricted. We cannot supply reviewed titles that are for ‘rental’ only. Call charges may vary depending on the service provider. Offers are run in conjunction with NMP Ltd. Cards are debited by NMP Music. Email enquiries to email@example.com.