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therewillbeblood460In the 1990s Paul Thomas Anderson made his name directing films like Boogie Nights and Magnolia that recalled the sprawling, complex work of Robert Altman. Epic in length, but intimate in detail, those films established him as one of the best of young Hollywood directors. He took a u-turn stylistically with Punch Drunk Love, a briskly paced, but unconventional love story in 2002. And then nothing for almost six years.

It was worth the wait.

There Will be Blood, the story of twin American obsessions of greed and religion told through one man’s rise through the early days oil business is one of the best movies of the last twelve months and is bound to be an Oscar magnet for its star Daniel Day-Lewis.

Loosely based on Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel, Oil!, the films begins with a stunning extended scene in an open mine in turn-of-the-last-century California, played completely silent save for the odd grunt or grown from the prospector, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis). Suspenseful and tense beyond belief it sets up a sense of foreboding that lasts through the entire film, while at the same time positioning Plainview as a powerhouse character who’ll do anything to succeed.

From this point on Anderson is letter perfect with the tone of the film, expertly juggling both the epic and intimate aspects of the story as he captures Plainview’s aggressive rise from poor prospector to tycoon. It is the quintessential story of power’s ability to corrupt as he amasses wealth and becomes obsessed only with amassing more wealth at any cost.

Plainview slowly becomes a monster who has a complicated relationship with his adopted son, becomes a murderer and uses religious salvation as simply a way of getting a land deed that he needs to drill for more oil. By the end of the film he is a megalomaniacal Charles Foster Kane-like character, alone in a huge mansion, isolated by choice from friends and family; his only companions are servants and money.

Daniel Day-Lewis is devastating in the lead role. His Plainview is one of the architects of America’s transformation from a rural to industrial nation; a man who helped usher in the change, but at a huge personal cost. Day-Lewis handles the changes in Plainview expertly, as he slowly allows the character’s morality to slip until it has almost entirely been eroded away. Vocally he seems to have found the perfect reference point for his character by channeling John Huston’s misanthropic Noah Cross from Chinatown, another great fictional Californian businessman willing to do anything to exploit that state’s natural resources for profit.

Also look for Paul Dano—best known as the mute-by-choice son in Little Miss Sunshine—as a devout preacher who represents the religion that gnaws at Planview’s conscience. The pair are at odds throughout, a physical manifestation of Plainview’s growing lack on scruples as he gradually walks away from the morals he was taught in Sunday School and steps toward the fire and brimstone of his new life. Dano’s powerful performance is at once disturbing and exhilarating, as it ranges from courteous piousness to dancing-with-snakes-religious-fury to submissive schemer.

Layer on top of all that an arresting electronic score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and you have a tour-de-force look at the making of a nation and the individualistic men who created the country.

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