by: COURTESY OF PARAMOUNT PICTURES, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis, right) and his son (Dillon Freasier) light out for the territories in “There Will Be Blood.”

In truth, there is no great flowing of gore in Paul Thomas Anderson's 'There Will Be Blood.' It's mostly oil that floods this startlingly strange American epic.

The title's accuracy lies in its severe biblical timbre and in a sense of dread black and palpable as the subterranean stuff on which wildcat driller Daniel Plainview builds an empire while his humanity collapses.

Daniel Day-Lewis gives a superlatives-exhausting performance as the craftily named Plainview, whose transformation from miner to magnate to monster comes as the centuries turn and the frontier ends.

Though it begins in 1898 with Plainview at the bottom of a hole and finishes in 1927 with Plainview at the bottom of his soul, this consistently unsettling film's present feels like a preternatural intersection of past and future.

This may seem a considerable departure from Anderson's modern, sprawling San Fernando Valley sagas 'Boogie Nights' and 'Magnolia,' but it's really about the birthing pains of the California he has examined previously.

There's plenty of sprawl in 'Blood's' parched vistas, but the style takes as much after the director's taut, dark and largely unsung debut, 'Hard Eight.' This ability to combine familiar Western vastness with a piercing concentration of focus is another of the film's peculiarly transfixing qualities.

Concentration is a Day-Lewis trademark, of course, but at midfilm there's a towering oil-well conflagration, like a hemorrhage in hell, that seems like a matchstick next to Plainview's own molten force.

Even the other people in the movie - creepy Paul Dano as Plainview's evangelical nemesis, somber young Dillon Freasier as Plainview's adopted son, and cadaverous Kevin J. O'Connor as a possible Plainview brother - seem almost like aspects of Plainview he must rid himself of on the way to obliteration.

The threat carried by Plainview and the title also is given vent in the dissonant score by Jonny Greenwood, the sound of skin being stretched, guts being plucked, and blood screaming for release.

It's the chorus of seeping horror that backs up Day-Lewis' adoption of the uniquely gravelly-yet-silken tones of legendary director-actor John Huston, whose 'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre' was an Anderson inspiration and whose Noah Cross in 'Chinatown' could easily be kin to Plainview.

Though 'Blood' springs from a portion of Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel 'Oil!,' it seems a more direct descendant of Erich von Stroheim's 1924 silent film classic 'Greed,' in addition to a more obvious link to 'Citizen Kane.'

Anderson's ambitions loom as hugely as the doom in his title, and if his reach exceeds his grasp - the climax, for example, seems both wildly awry and entirely proper - that grasp tears a hole you could lose most movies in.

- Pat Holmes

Cinema 21

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