An epic character study worthy of comparison to Citizen Kane, this sparse, bleak, and enthralling film has seemingly come out of nowhere. At least, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights) has never made anything like it. Much of the credit though belongs to a riveting performance from Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview, this film’s central – and in many ways, only – character.
Working a silver mine in America’s south west during the 19th century, Plainview strikes oil and makes his fortune. A co-worker’s accidental death leaves him with an adoptive son, and word of a farm where oil bubbles from the ground leads him to New Boston. His operation brings prosperity to the town – a prosperity that local evangelical preacher Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) believes he’s owed.
Battling Eli, fate, and his own bitter nature, Plainview is an all-too-human monster given ferocious life by Day-Lewis. An amazing, almost horror-movie soundtrack (from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood) only adds to the ominous, driving tone. Blood has flaws: the focus on Plainview shuts out the supporting cast, and the final scene is perhaps a step too far. But what truly memorable film is perfect?
(This review appeared in The Big Issue, #297)