Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Film Review: There Will be Blood

There will be Oil; But Not Upton Sinclair's Oil

Eric Green

There are two winners stemming from the new film by Paul Thomas Anderson, "No Blood for Oil."

The first winner is Daniel Day-Lewis the incredibly gifted Irish actor who played the lead character in the just released film, "No Blood for Oil."

The second winner is Upton Sinclair who wrote the book, "Oil." Almost 80 years ago.

It would be easy to criticize Anderson for fundamentally changing the cast of characters and their muckraking mission which was the central character of Sinclair's book. But, while this criticism may be appealing and largely correct, you would miss the point. Maybe, Anderson should have not used the Sinclair book to advertise his movie. But, that would have not put the historically important but mostly forgotten Sinclair book in the cross hairs of book readers.

Upton Sinclair is mostly known for his great book, "The Jungle" which exposed the outrageous conditions in the meatpacking industry. Sinclair clearly wanted his expose on the oil industry to receive the same attention. It didn't; until now.


The over 2-hour movie, filmed in Texas and New Mexico, will hold the filmgoers attention for every minute. The characterization of greed, power and ruthlessness on the part of the Lewis character is unmistakable. Equally compelling is the role of the evangelist minister played by Paul Dano [you'll remember Dano played the role of the son in Little Miss Sunshine, this a completely different role.]

In this film the theatrical tension is created between ultra religious fanatics and oilmen committed to greed.

Lewis was on the screen for almost every minute of this film And, that was not a liability of the film.

Day-Lewis never disappoints. He does very few films, but when he does it is an acting blockbuster. You'll remember his academy award performance in My Left Foot and in the Boxer. His overwhelming role in The Gangs of New York is more like this performance.


The book, on the other hand, reflects a World War I worldwide political situation. In the book, the lead characters are completely involved in the strikes of oil workers and the political debates and discussions that fully involved communists and socialists. The family drama also is intertwined in the oil and political events.

Sinclair pointed his readers to reforming the oil industry, not just dramatizing its unhealthy creations.

Maybe it would have been too difficult for Anderson to screen write and direct a film that would have communists and socialists, both seen in a positive light. Remember, the Bolshevik resolution was fresh in the minds of all political activists. And, the demand that oil should be in the hands of people was a populist demand.

Food and Oil Again

An interesting link between Sinclair's "The Jungle" and this film is that Eric Schlosser, the author of "Fast Food Nation," the stinging indictment of the US food industry, bought the rights to Oil and gave it to Anderson. He served as a producer of the film, but did not have involvement with its screenplay. Too bad. Maybe his involvement would have moved the film more toward action the way Sinclair's book did.

But, maybe Anderson's film will still provide an incentive toward the year 2008 and beyond becoming the years that the US follows the lead of Venezuela's Chavez and put oil to the benefit of working and poor people, not the rich.

If there is one Slogan that I am sure Anderson, Sinclair and Day-Lewis [and probably Schlossberg] share would be: NO BLOOD FOR OIL!!

1 comment:

normanmarkowitz said...

just a very brief response to Eric's review of the film, which I haven't yet seen. It certainly is a major victory for Sinclair, who was a very popular novelist, but one that Hollywood didn't touch for nearly half a century. Sinclair was a longtime member of the Socialist party, although he broke with the party during WWI, which he supported, and in 1934, when he won the Democratic nomination for governor of California on a program(End Poverty in California, or EPIC, far to the left of the New Deal) He occasionally fought with Communists but at the same time had many Communist friends and in the last years of his very long life was close to Communists in his opposition to where the U.S. was heading politically.
This is a step forward certainly and a victory. It would be great to have Sinclair's popular novel about the Sacco Vanzetti, Boston, turned into a film today, at the time of the Patriot Act, And given what is happening in the U.S Economy,The Jungle(whose explicit Marxist socialist message could never be erased by Hollywood, which is probably why it has never been made into a movie) would also make a great film.
Finally, Sinclair's popular novels of the 1930s and 1940s, the Lanny Budd novels(about a wealthy socialist who becomes a special agent for President Franklin Roosevelt, fighting the evil doers of reactionary capitalism and fascism) could be the basis for a series of action adventure movies with real political meaning(for example, I can see Lanny outwitting Bush's neoCon advisors to stop a war against Iran before the elections