The first thing you have to realize while watching "There Will Be Blood," the latest, long-awaited film from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, is that Daniel Day-Lewis is basically playing a hater. A turn-of-the-century hater. Oh yes, they didn't just start sprouting up when rappers began making more money than other people. They've been around for generations.
And Day-Lewis' performance could very well be the most riveting, entertaining thing I've ever seen the man do.
His struggling oil prospector Daniel Plainview is nothing but contempt, bitterness and loathing, all behind a scornful sneer and a heavy mustache. He goes from town to town, armed only with an impressive spiel and a young orphan he calls his son, *.W., selling people on the promise of finding black gold on their land and then shortchanging them.
Plainview practically lives by his name, keeping a simplistic, focused perspective on his mission to make money off the fat of the land. So when people interfere with this mission, ol' boy gets the claws out. When he goes drilling for oil in the small town of Little Boston, he often finds himself at odds with young preacher Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), a self-anointed prophet looking for "a donation" to build a new church. To Plainview, he seems another slick opportunist.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
Whenever they butt heads, the battle between capitalism and religion over the soil (and soul) of our land comes into full (plain) view in "Blood."
Loosely adapted from the muckraking 1927 novel "Oil!" by Upton Sinclair, "Blood" is more about one man's near-maddening descent into his own seething paranoid greediness. It is to Day-Lewis' credit that he keeps this misanthrope so mesmerizing, almost sympathetic, even at times we should hate him.
But in "Blood," it isn't just Day-Lewis that wows you. Anderson certainly creates a blazingly scenic world in this movie.
Anderson has long aped the Me Decade-era work of filmmakers such as Scorsese and Altman. But "Blood" has Anderson moving up the inspirational ladder, cribbing from such masters as Stanley Kubrick, John Huston and John Ford. An epic film like this needs epic directors to bite from.
However, with all its familiarity, "Blood" still feels fresh and original. Radiohead lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood provides a score as fierce and grim as the movie itself. All of this is capped off by an ending -- one last climactic (and, yes, bloody) showdown between Plainview and Sunday -- that's such a delirious frenzy of acting between Day-Lewis and Dano, I'm still trying to figure out if it ruins the movie or ends it on the gonzo crescendo it needed.
"There Will Be Blood" is an explosive work. Never has watching a hater in his element been such a fascinating experience.