There Will Be Blood (rated R for violence) qualified for likely Oscar nominations by opening in a few theaters late last month. It has its nationwide rollout next week. If you're a moviegoer who trusts the many reviewers who have already declared it magnificent, you'll race to the box office. Here's one piece of advice: Don't go.
The plot is simple enough: A determined oil man in the early 1900s gets rich by lying to farmers and buying their land cheap. An evangelist becomes powerful in other malignant ways. They're both hypocrites, mirror images of corruption who increasingly show their hatred for all, including family members and each other.
The movie has moments that transcend its 3E clichéd assumption that Entrepreneurs and Evangelists are all Evil. Its visually stunning opening and several other scenes display director Paul Thomas Anderson's cinematic talent. Daniel Day-Lewis, playing the businessman who becomes more overtly evil, is the early Best Actor favorite.
And yet, the clichés make the 158-minute movie a tiresome and predictable kiss-up to secular liberal ideology - and many reviewers, sadly, know so little of reality that they see the stock characters of fiction and media as historically typical. Newsweek called the film "an acute portrayal of unfettered capitalism." The New Yorker termed it "an allegory of American development in which two overwhelming forces-entrepreneurial capitalism and evangelism-both operate on the border of fraudulence."
I read two dozen reviews from New York and Los Angeles publications, wondering whether anyone would protest the same old same old malevolence toward Christianity and business. Only the Los Angeles Times noted that "the film as a whole has a weakness for the didactic." New York magazine cynically but accurately described the "Oscar strategy" of the movie: "Be relevant. It's about the intersection of single-minded capitalism and fundamentalism -- sound familiar?"
The use of familiar plots does not necessarily produce mediocrity: Shakespeare turned England's golden oldies into high drama. But just as some Christians make assumptions about secularists and then resort to mechanical presentation of the gospel rather than personal interaction, so many liberal screenwriters and directors assume that Christianity is a racket and business is soulless - in that case, why waste time in character development and explanation as to why a pastor goes bad or a businessman disintegrates?
The one newspaper reviewer I ran across who panned the film writes not for a New York or Los Angeles publication but for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Christopher Kelly noted that There Will Be Blood doesn't show "real people or real places" but exists in a "stylized cinematic universe.... the conflicts here are banal, the emotions muted, and the central allegory half-baked." A reviewer who's away from the hive finds it easier to deviate from the buzz, buzz.
The cover story in World's Jan. 12 issue will show how movies like Juno have wonderfully moved away from pro-abort clichés, but many film Odysseys still sport only evil entrepreneurs and evangelists. A film with unexamined 3E assumptions is like a pig with lipstick.