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04.09.08

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Phaedra

There Will Be Blood

Two discs; Paramount; $34.99

By Michael S. Gant


Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood certainly looks like an epic, thanks to the spacious gestures of cinematographer Robert Elswit. Unfortunately, this study in American industrial megalomania doesn't add up, even though Anderson constructs a simplistic equation that adds up material and spiritual greed and arrives at a enormous sum of human suffering. Daniel Day-Lewis gives a magnificent performance (up to the end anyway) as a wildcat California oil man turning into a tortured magnate in the early 1900s, but Paul Dano's Eli Sunday hardly seems like a worthy opponent. Nothing in his preaching fervor sounds as chilling or compelling as Plainview's scary confession, "I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed." This mismatch means that the baroque ending in Plainview's private bowling alley looks less like a cathartic release than a crazed "Got Milkshake" commercial for overacting. Anderson is so absorbed in the familial angst of his characters that he stints on the larger social and political context that brought big oil to Southern California. Nothing in the movie makes as powerful a statement about America's dependence on oil as the sight of a thick forest of looming oil derricks filling the horizon. That image comes from The Story of Petroleum, a late-1920s industry/government documentary included as an extra. Indeed, this short film, full of period details about drilling and pipeline construction that Anderson meticulously re-created, shows that the director was more interested in mechanical accuracy than in political analysis. The other, rather skimpy, extras include some historical stills and a few deleted and alternative scenes—hardly enough to justify this version over the one-disc release.


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