There Will Be Blood is an epic on American themes - specifically the clash between capitalism and faith. Daniel Plainview is a shrewd turn-of-the-20th-Century oil prospector. A self-made success, he has made his fortune by his ability to charm common people out of the oil on their property by appealing to their values, speaking plainly, and making them think they're getting the better end of the deal. He's like Gordon Gekko from Wall Street crossed with Teddy Roosevelt. When he is alerted to a vast untapped oil field in the town of New Boston, he works his charm, expresses modesty, and conveys experience through a well-rehearsed speech to the townsfolk. He is quickly undermined, though by Eli Sunday. Eli is a young minister, wary of the oil workers who have moved in with their grand promises and when he and Daniel square off, we see the hidden glint in each man's eye - that of two con men recognizing each other and silently staking claim to the same territory. Their battle of wills lasts decades through good times and bad and the struggle changes with the times until patience finally wins out.
This movie takes a little while to get into - it's kind of like Beethoven's 9th Symphony. The fourth movement has one of the world's most recognizable melodies, but can you hum the theme from from the first movement? Many people can't. The thing is, even though it isn't as memorable as the rest of the piece, we need that first movement to set things up, to get us into the right state of mind, to prepare us for what's to come. Likewise, the slow opening of There Will Be Blood is all setup and leads to the compelling middle and astounding, cathartic final scene.
There Will Be Blood is up for nine Academy Awards - more than any film this year. It looks outmatched for the technical awards - Editing and Sound Editing - and barring a sweep, will probably lose the artistic categories - Costumes and Art Direction. I do think it will do well in the Cinematography category and is a lock for Best Actor. As for Best Director, I think the elder statesmen of the category - the Cohen brothers - will take it. As the most epic and ambitious movie, I'm picking it for both Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture.