It’s not until you sit back and analyse the pic that you come to the conclusion that Daniel Day-Lewis has carried the whole movie, probably without realising it.
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What stands out most in this pic is the lack of melodrama, while still telling a great story. Day-Lewis plays Daniel Plainview, a man of little or no emotion, whose back story is never told, but leaves you in no doubt that his life up until the point we meet him, has been hard. He almost has no friends; only softness in his heart is put aside for a baby boy he adopts from one of his workers who was been killed in an on-site accident. Once he finds oil the first time, he gets a head’s up from a visiting Californian that there are barrels full of Texas T to be had out west, and so the film picks up the pace from there.
Anderson always makes long movies, which sometimes seem to lag (Boogie Nights comes to mind and to a lesser extent Magnolia), however he does trust his audience to fill in the gaps.
In the wash, it is easy to see why Day-Lewis won both the BAFTA and Oscar for lead actor, and why Robert Elswit won the Oscar for best cinematography. In Day Lewis’s case, class is class, while Elswit gives the early 20th century Californian oil fields an air of grim authenticity that puts you in the moment throughout the whole movie. I also loved Paul Dano, who plays a nemesis of sorts to Day Lewis’s Plainview.
If you are looking for some sort of emotional pay-off at the end, you won’t get it. What you are rewarded with however, is a great tale of greed, envy and hate.