Written by Paul Thomas Anderson, inspired by the book Oil! by Upton Sinclair
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, CiarÃ¡n Hinds, Kevin J. O’Connor, Dillon Freasier
My Advice: Could do with a matinee.
The 20th Century is young. The land is alive with oil and the land is filled with people like Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis) trying to dig down deep enough to tap into said oil. Plainview works hard and starts to build an empire based upon his knowledge, his land ownings and, of course, what seeps up from underneath. When he’s tipped off to a huge “ocean of oil” under a small town, he, his son (Freasier), and his company move in to take advantage. This brings him into direct and indirect conflict with a young evangelical preacher (Dano) who is also there to…take advantage.
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Paul Thomas Anderson knew it was going to take something special for me to trust him after the overwrought crap that was Magnolia. And he played his cards right: he knew I couldn’t stay away from Daniel Day-Lewis, who we’ve decided doesn’t have roles written for him simply because every role was written for him. He’s so good he made Gangs of New York worth sitting through. He’s so good he gives off talent like The Flash gives off the Speed Force, hence Winona Ryder’s two best performances were opposite him. He is one of those few method actors who I’ll give a pass too (because 95% of them are full of it IMO) because the results are extraordinary. He’s intense, and while not as downright bloodthirsty (outwardly) as his butcher character from Gangs, he’s just as dangerous and just as mesmerizing to watch. As with all his roles, he seamlessly becomes Plainview so that you have to remind yourself you’re watching someone acting. And did I mention he’s dangerous? Because he’s damn dangerous, so he is.
(Also, and I have to mention this because it was driving me nuts while watching the film–I agree with others who have said that John Huston‘s is the voice that Day-Lewis used as a template for Plainview’s. I should have caught this because I did just watch the entirety of the Under the Volcano Criterion DVD not too long ago, but I just couldn’t bring it to the surface. But damned if that’s not a good call.)
One of the biggest concerns about this film was Paul Dano, since he had just come off the buzz of Little Miss Sunshine, and it’s a helluva thing to go from that to playing opposite Day-Lewis. Of course, there was no need to be concerned. I thought he performed excellently and really captured the dual nature of the role. He makes for just as believable a crazy demon-fighting preacher as anyone. Also of note is Hinds, who seems to be in every other movie these days–he isn’t given much to do but does it well. O’Connor also comes in late but conducts himself well.
One of the standouts, and possibly the standout besides Day-Lewis, is Jonny Greenwood, who creates an excellent musical score that put me in the mind of Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho, actually. Greenwood is a member of Radiohead, and when he finally gets tired of being in that band, he is more than welcome to score another film, because, honestly, it’s quite good.
The film is incredibly well crafted as a whole, though. They’ve recreated the early 20th Century accurately (though I’m no expert on the subject) and the cinematography is just flat out amazing. There’s a level of attention to detail, such as lighting, that merits multiple viewings just on their own. The thing that strikes me about the film, similar to No Country again, is that it’s not a clean movie. It feels like there’s something missing, but yet, upon reflection, everything’s there and the film’s complete on its own. It’s an interesting canvas that you can hang your own interpretation on: is the blood of the title actual blood or the blood of family? Or is it the blood of the sacrificial lamb? Or a little bit of all? Is this an indictment of American progress, of our pursuit of oil, of riches, or is it an indictment of the pursuit of spirituality led by spiritless men? Or D, all of the above? It’s just a fascinating film that feels like it’s earned the title of epic even though the story is really rather small, as opposed to so many films that try desperately to play out as epic, thinking scale of set and budget can replace scale of vision. It’s a period piece that’s absolutely timeless but never loses its grip on the reality it plays out in.
I mark this as a matinee just because you want to see it on the big screen. Were it not for Day-Lewis’ performance and the wide open vistas of arid America, it would be okay as a DVD. But by all means, watch it.