This, I quickly realized, is not a trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson‘s There Will Be Blood (Paramount Vantage, 11.21.07). I mean, it certainly doesn’t summarize “Oil!”, the Upton Sinclair novel it’s supposedly based upon. The book is primarily a hardscrabble father-son relationship story that serves as a parable about the evils of capitalism. Daniel Day-Lewis plays a 1920s oil prospector named Plainview; Paul Dano plays…I don’t know who Dano plays. Goddammit, I’m totally confused and pissed off about all this vagueness and lack of information.
It’s just a sketchy little teaser that delivers two aspects of the film — (a) Plainview’s misanthropic attitudes (Day-Lewis certainly looks snarly and surly) about how he sees almost nothing likable about people and wants only to make enough money so he can go off and live alone, and (b) the visual excitement of watching black oil shooting out of a well 40, 50, 60 feet in the air, and then watching the same (or a similar) well catch fire.
That’s all it is — a little tongue taste. Like a teaser for Titanic telling you it takes place on a big ship and that Leonardo DiCaprio‘s character is a talented sketch artist on the bum.
One could take the shallow view and conclude that Anderson’s film is going to be about Day-Lewis scowling and sneering and venting all kinds of harsh judgment. This kind of goes hand in hand with the above photo of an apparently egg-bald, buck-toothed Day-Lewis squinting at something presumably unpleasant.
Or you could step back and say, “Okay, an oil-driven Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Anderson, Sinclair>, Day-Lewis and Dano pooling forces to tell us that American life is a predatory jungle because most people turn bad when there’s big money to be had.
Wait a minute….that’s kind of true, isn’t it?
Daniel Day-Lewis; Paul Thomas Anderson
Day-Lewis’s Plainview is a prospector who gets lucky after buying the oil rights to a family’s ranch. The story is about how great wealth corrupts and leads to inhumanity. The conflict is about Eli’s sympathy with the exploited oilfield workers and socialist organizers. A description I found says that “Senators, small investors, oil magnates, a Hollywood film star, and a crusading evangelist are the people that populate the pages of Sinclar’s novel.”
Sinclair was an anti-capitalist who used “Oil!” to push his favoring views of socialism and communism, which (cut him a break) looked like much better concepts in the 1920s than they turned out to be in practice later on.
I’ve read that Sinclair based his novel on Teapot Dome scandal, which was about naval oil reserves in Wyoming being sold off by corrupt politicians close to President Warren G. Harding. “Oil!” basically shows how a decent man and his son are up against insurmountable odds in an impossibly corrupt business.