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Friday, June 14, 2024

My movie-geek friends were surprised to find out that I had never seen anything with Daniel Day-Lewis in it (not even "Gangs of New York").

I can't be completely at fault here because Day-Lewis has been in eight films since "My Left Foot" in 1989.

It's not like he's Samuel L. Jackson or Christopher Walken. Thus, unlike those two, when he appears in something, it's actually special rather than a sign that he should have more discretion in the roles he takes, and that he's a shell of what he once was (Walken more so than Jackson).

Day-Lewis is the star of "There Will Be Blood," the new film directed by Paul Thomas Anderson ("Magnolia", "Boogie Nights") that was seemingly made to tell me just what I was missing.

Day-Lewis plays Daniel Plainview, a prospector who discovers oil at a mining site and soon becomes a successful oilman. With his success grows his greed, his misanthropy and his violent tendencies.

He brings to Plainview an intensity simmering just below the surface, creating a businessman who'd threaten to kill you in your sleep between "hello" and "how are you." One simply waits for the moment when he suddenly becomes unhinged and murders someone.

He's scary.

Paul Dano plays dual roles as twins Paul and Eli Sunday. After a gimmicky role as the mute son in "Little Miss Sunshine," he is given a chance to actually act. He's good as Eli, a charismatic, young-faith healer, who is reduced to a shrieking, sniveling worm whenever things get physical.

The score, by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, is fantastic and haunting. One may have expected some disparate art rock sound to go against the film's period setting. However, Greenwood, a multi-instrumentalist, employs violent, pounding string arrangements that recall one of the first scenes in Alejandro Jodorowsky's classic cult film "El Topo," in which the title character walks through a slaughtered village as birds crow, and there is a dissonant buzzing like a chorus of broken violins and killer bees (Video Rodeo is located at 1119 West University Avenue. Hint, hint).

The film itself is a departure for Anderson. Instead of a somewhat-contemporary film about personal relationships, whether they involve porn stars or Adam Sandler, Anderson has delivered a beautiful-looking period film that paradoxically depicts sprawling southwestern vistas and violent acts.

Ostensibly a character study of Plainview, one could easily give it a political interpretation as a meditation on the violence that is apparently inherent in the desire for natural resources and, by extension, money and power.

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