|In the name of the lord and profit|
“Ladies and gentlemen, if I say I am an oilman, you will agree. I am a family man. I run a family business. This is my son and my partner, H.W. Plainview,” Daniel Plainview says.
The sound of a mattock chipping away at rock is the first sound that greets you. A man is down in a pit swinging a mattock hard into the hard rock and sparks fly. He finds what he’s looking for, silver. For the first few minutes of this film, there is no dialogue but the picture tells you all you need to know.
It is 1897 and we are slowly introduced to Daniel Plainview, a man hard at work who will stop at nothing to succeed and make the most money he can. We are then taken to 1902 where we find Daniel digging for oil. After an unfortunate accident he adopts the son of one of the men who worked for him. Cut to nine years later and Daniel is now a successful oilman. He sells his oil business to locals as a family business with his son, H.W. Daniel Day Lewis plays Daniel Plainview a shrewd businessman who is taking the oil business by storm at the turn of the century when the business picked up. He is approached by a young man regarding the prospect of oil in his hometown of Little Boston. He sets out to investigate and this is where the story begins.
This is a strong unapologetic story about oil, religion and family. Daniel Plainview is a businessman who cares more about success than anything else. He meets a young man, Eli Sunday who happens to be a priest in the local church. Eli (Paul Dano) is an extremist priest who clashes with Daniel at every turn. This film is more about character than it is spectacle. Each scene is unsettling in the extreme nature of how it is presented. Paul Thomas Anderson weaves a beautiful story with tension at each moment keeping the audience guessing. A scene begins and you really cannot tell how it will progress. It is difficult to make an unpredictable film and Paul Thomas Anderson pulls it off with ease.
The acting in this film is wonderful, to say the least. Daniel Day Lewis brings Daniel Plainview to life. He gives such a gripping performance that throughout the film you really cannot figure out who this man is. He plays a protagonist who we are not sure if we should root for. He is something of an anti-hero who is so passionate in what he does that you can’t help but respect him. Paul Dano gives a performance that will anger Christians across the world playing an extremist priest who is more obsessed with power than with preaching the gospel. This feels at points like a hopeless film with two extremes; a power hungry priest and a violent businessman. The only glimmer of hope is the young son of Daniel Plainview who cares about family and is somewhat grounded in the ‘real world’ as opposed to his father and nemesis.
The cinematography in this film is spectacular. This is to say that it fits in with all other aspects of the film to hide or reveal certain character traits as the story progresses. At some points the story has long single takes that make you feel as though you are actually watching real events. It gives the audience a front row seat to the life of these people in Little Boston. The music on the other hand gave a grand orchestral motion to the film that I think to some degree distracted me from the film itself. The music at several points led the story in anticipatory tones. This I felt was an intrusion to the otherwise impeccably assembled film. Also, I felt at times that the film had scenes that were not entirely needed and thus made the film unfavourably long.
This is a beautiful film and would be appreciated by audiences around the world. It is quite artsy yet moderately commercial enough to attract a diverse demographics. The film is rated (R) because of strong scenes of violence. Viewers under the age of 17 would require to be accompanied by an adult. Otherwise, it was a wonderful film to watch.