Sunday, May 11, 2008

There Will Be Blood (But Not Too Much)

I finally got around to seeing the critically acclaimed Oscar winner "There Will Be Blood," starring Daniel-Day Lewis as ruthless oilman Daniel Plainview. While the movie is a bit of a slow starter, it does get going late in Act II, and the pace of this expose of the oil world based on Upton Sinclair's best seller "Oil!" is not my issue with the movie.

My problem with this movie is it is simply out of date. This should not come as much of a surprise to anyone. The novel on which it is based was published in 1927. The problem is that Mr. Plainview, whom we are supposed to see as a sinister, diabolical, ruthless businessman, simply isn't that big a deal by today's standards. Sure, he ruins a small town or two, shows little compassion for workers killed in his employ, and takes revenge on one or two people who wronged him, but can this really compare with Halliburton's role in the war in Iraq?

Sinclair, who in his time turned a magnifying glass on the ills of industrial society, no doubt meant Oil! to be a cautionary tale on the dangers of business run rampant. Sadly, many more people then, as today, needed jobs than needed books, and the warning went unheeded. As a result, Oil!s bogeyman Plainview, with his odd gait, appearance, and speech patterns and his devastating fury which results in the death of a handful of people at most, is little more than quaint, and most of us probably long for the days when men with as little ambition posed the greatest threat to society.

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