The reviews below have been collected from U.S. Catholic's Culture in Context department, which appears each month in the print edition of U.S. Catholic. All the reviews below are by Culture in Context columnist Pat McCormick unless otherwise noted.
Directed by Paul Anderson (Miramax, 2007)
Paul Anderson's adaptation of Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel Oil! joins an impressive list of Hollywood classics lancing the boil of ambition and greed in the underbelly of the American dream. Like Citizen Kane, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Godfather, Chinatown, and Wall Street, Anderson's brooding and violent epic takes aim at a ruthless and savage winner-take-all ethic buried deep in the American psyche.
In this sweeping tale of America's late 19th-century oil rush, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a simmering caldron of ambition and rage who pickaxes into the belly of the earth and wades through competitors, opponents, and bystanders like a human earthquake. Having struck oil and started his own company, the up-and-coming wildcatter learns of an untapped field beneath a poor desert community and sets out to capture this bonanza before the locals or big oil men can act. Success here means unbridled wealth and vanquishing every trace of a desperate childhood. This is to be his Rosebud.
Plainview is a ruthless combatant who is driven by an unpolished, almost feral rage and jealousy, unable to tolerate any success in others. To mask this madness and win the trust of local landowners, he presents himself as a family man, raising an orphaned boy as his son, and there are haunting scenes early in the film that suggest the child could offer a path to redemption. Here is the struggle for Plainview's soul. Will he choose to protect the child or cast him overboard for the sake of his ambition?
Suffice it to say that the god worshipped in There Will Be Blood is not compassion but mammon, and both Plainview and the Pentecostal preacher who opposes him in his struggle to dominate the people of this small town care little for anything but their own ambition and greed. As a result, the blood in this tale does not point to the ties that bind us to others but to our violence spilling onto the ground.-Patrick McCormick