But those who enjoy a movie with a solid storytelling sensibility, Oscar-worthy acting, and unique vision need not worry about anyone else's concerns.
There Will Be Blood keeps some names and some situations from the Sinclair book about a self-made oilman and his relationships with his son and with a fiery preacher. But it soars off into new territory with great acting and the guidance of Anderson's hand. (Credit also goes to Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood for the somber-plucky-majestic score and longtime Anderson regular Robert Elswit for the stunning cinematography.)
Yet with all of that going for it, the film would likely be a shell of itself if it didn't have Daniel Day-Lewis in the lead, first seen as a dirt-poor prospector who strikes it rich; later as a tough and wily businessman; and finally as a despondent, angry hermit, trapped and lost, like some lanky Charles Foster Kane, in the huge mansion he's had built.
Day-Lewis plays Daniel Plainview, a slow-talking, slow-moving, very deliberate man who believes only in himself and his own ideas. These include -- in the days after he's made some oil money -- traveling around the country making offers to drill on people's land; finding out about possible oil strikes; and trying to buy up land without letting the owners know what may be underneath.
Day-Lewis plays him initially as a concerned father -- his tag-along "son" H.W. (Dillon Freasier) is actually the son of a man who died in an oil accident, though Plainview has never told this to the boy. But as the film progresses, Plainview's dark side starts to peek through. Using his deep, rich, resonant voice -- in a speaking style reminiscent of John Huston -- Day-Lewis makes him warm and comforting at first, then threatening, and finally despicable.
Plainview buys up some oil-rich California land from the unwitting Sunday family. Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), with aspirations of building a church, becoming a preacher and saving the world's sinners, begins a head-butting relationship with Plainview, mainly based on Plainview's standing as a non-believer. Things go awry between them long before Sunday realizes that Plainview will most likely welsh on the money for the land.
Dano, who also plays Eli's brother Paul, gets to practice quite a bit of his own scenery-chewing here. When first met, it's clear that he has a fire burning within him. As he progresses in his dreams of becoming a man of the cloth, his Eli can be frightening in his intensity as he attempts to drive evil spirits from his parishioners.
Blood is a story that moves smoothly from being about greed, stubbornness and never backing down, to one about sinners supposedly looking for salvation. Some of the characters are keeping secrets from others; some are out-and-out liars.
The film never holds back about the physical dangers inherent in the business; there are many accidents, some involving Plainview and those close to him. And it features a number of incidents in which blood is decidedly not thicker than water.
Spinning on in a leisurely manner, but interrupted by sudden scenes of violence, the film keeps revealing more and more levels in its characters. Some of them change so much over the course of the film, they would be practically unrecognizable if stood next to each other at different moments. And it all grows more uncomfortable and troubling in later reels, as Plainview gets angrier at the world and starts closing himself off from it.
Viewers will wonder, just as Plainview might be wondering, if he's losing his sanity. The climax, played out in his home's private bowling alley, suggests that he might be. Yet it just as well might be another example of the script's tendency to keep the tables turning.
This is a challenging film, one that demands attention and viewers' willingness to adapt to constantly shifting moods and emotions. It ends on a wonderfully vague note, with one of the characters saying, "I'm finished" -- leaving the audience to ponder the many levels of meaning in those two words.