Director - Paul Thomas Anderson
This is a tense film. It deals not only with the difficulties of getting oil out of t'ground, but also with the heavy theme of manipulating people for your own personal goals. In case you have any doubts, the film paints its tension thick and plainly. The films near wordless introduction shows just how difficult and dangerous oil prospecting can be, but also racks up the tension with Jonny Greenwood's marvellous score.
At its simplest, this is a battle between two men. Daniel Day-Lewis' Daniel Plainview, an oil tycoon and Paul Dano's minister Eli Sunday. The two certainly do spa, but really it is about a lot more than that. It is about greed, it is about obsession, it is about cruelty and isolation. It is also about the worrying similarities between Plainview's cruelty and narrow mindedness and that of Sunday.
It is also superbly acted. Much has been said about Daniel Day-Lewis. He is well known for his method acting and for his intensity. So it is only right that he turns in a wonderful performance. A man who's love of oil begins as a pursuit and ends up a full blown obsession, essentially driving him to insanity and leaving him a hollow husk of what he once was.
The real surprise comes from Paul Dano. His performance of Eli begins as a man wanting to make a buck, a man with maybe dubious moral piousness. But it ends as an equally broken man. Equally obsessed.
The 'I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE' scene has been noted may times for being incredibly powerful, and yes.... Day-Lewis is remarkable in it, creating a fascinating character noticeably on the brink of utter madness. But Dano is holding his own, and doing so well. He portrays a very difficult character and one with potentially a much more dramatic arc than Plainview.
Yes, the final scene may have him mostly looking scared when up against Day-Lewis' mighty performance, but Eli's journey has been more interesting, richer.
Not bad for Klitz
The film isn't exactly plot heavy - there is no dramatic journey from event to event. Instead we focus on one big event - Plainview trying to get oil - and allow the characters to bounce off each other.
The relationship between Plainview and Eli, and Plainview and his own son are interesting and tragic. They culminate in three scenes. Firstly Eli's scene where Plainview comes to his church for Baptism. It is a cruel piece of showmanship deliberately designed to belittle Plainview and it is an important scene for Eli's own greed and vanity - Plainview's revenge comes in infamous (and already mentioned) Milkshake scene. Then there is the scene where Plainview's son leaves him to start a career. Plainview's reaction showing that Oil has completely blinkered his view on the world. That nothing is more important than the hunt for black gold.
The film is masterfully handled, from the amazing dialogue (often letting silence do all the work), the beautiful cinematography and the brutal violence of the film. In both the actions of the characters but also in the harshness of the wild west world.
It is a film which has to be experienced. It is not always an easy watch but it is utterly entrancing and one that leaves you feeling richer for having seen it.