This is a really complex movie and one that is going to be hard to review. I don’t even know where to start. I’m afraid once I get rambling on all the things I want to say, the review will be as long as the movie (just over two and a half hours).
I’ll start with Paul Thomas Anderson. He might be one of the most gifted young filmmakers around. He was 27 when he did Boogie Nights (I wasn’t impressed with his first movie, Hard Eight).
Boogie Nights is now on my list of all-time favorites.
After Boogie Nights, he’s done Punch-Drunk Love and Magnolia, which were both good (albeit overrated).
This is Anderson’s adaptation of the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair. To give you an idea of how unnecessarily long this was…we had a 15 minute opening scene with no dialogue. We just see a determined man (Daniel Day-Lewis, proving he might be the best actor working today), digging for silver. An accident breaks his leg, but like the Energizer bunny, he keeps going and going.
The scene serves a purpose. It establishes this character as somebody that is so driven, he’ll work even when he should be seeking medical care (although in the late 1800s, who knows what medical care would’ve even done for him).
Another problem I had, is something critics are praising — the musical score by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood. I have two Radiohead CDs in my collection, so I’m a fan. I just felt the violin style horror music didn’t fit the vibe; especially when you see the trailers for this. We see a teenage preacher, hear that music, and think it’s going to be some sinister, supernatural thriller. Oh how people will be disappointed if that’s what they expected. Instead, they get a character study of an oil tycoon that talks like he’s channeling John Huston (you young folks can Google him).
Actor Paul Dano plays the young preacher. He was good in Little Miss Sunshine, but then, he didn’t have any lines (he’s the rebellious, mute teenager). He was great when preaching the gospel, but some scenes he had later in the movie didn’t work for me. My girlfriend was also confused by the fact that he was playing his twin brother. She didn’t believe it was really his brother, but thought the character was just saying he was a twin (until we saw a second screening). We both agree that they should’ve tried to make them look or sound a little different.
There was also stuff about this movie I liked. Lewis’ performance, for starters. The way he feels about religion, the way the film takes on capitalism. It was interesting to see Lewis do his sales pitch for buying land in these one-horse towns that had oil beneath their feet. I enjoyed the way he’d snap at the drop of a hat, whether it was to a son he supposedly loved, or his right-hand man, who worked for years with him. It makes you realize that an evil person on screen isn’t just the character that is taking a knife and stabbing everyone in sight, but the guy that’s smarter than everyone in the room – and is insulting, manipulative, etc.
Time for a fun fact: Both of these movies were filmed in an area of Texas where James Dean’s Giant was filmed. My favorite story from the shooting was the Coen brothers seeing an explosion from this (a few oil wells exploded), while they’re trying to do No Country For Old Men – both movie titles that are sentences, filming in such close proximity.
Okay, here’s the story. Daniel Plainview is the guy going from town to town, with his “partner” H.W. That’s his adorable 9-year-old son, who helps prove he’s a family man to the small town folk. He buys up land, and doesn’t negotiate much. He throws out an offer. If you take it, great. If not, he’s up and out of there.
Paul Dano shows up at his office telling him about the area he lives and how much oil is there. He wants a relatively small fee to tell him where it is. They make the deal, and off goes Plainview. That’s where he meets the other Dano, who doesn’t want his church and preaching disturbed by all this pesky oil drilling.
Dano’s smart, and realizes Plainview is trying to swindle the town. Plainview feels Dano is – with all his talk about God and the bible and wanting to build an even bigger church. They butt heads, and have three very powerful scenes. One involves Plainview smacking him a few times. Another involves a ceremony where Plainview invites Dano to say a few words and to bless the proceedings before they start drilling; and another scene involves Dano slapping Plainview repeatedly. Wow, is that a powerful scene. You see various emotions displayed on Plainviews face, and Dano seemingly loves every second of it. The movie is worth the price of admission for that alone.
There are some interesting little side stories. Plainview seems bothered by a father in town that is rather abusive to his daughter (pot calling the kettle black?). Another, more complicated story, is when Plainview’s half-brother shows up. It created a weird moment when the audience laughed and wasn’t supposed to. He’s showing his birth certificate to prove it, while saying “I’m your brother, from another mother.”
I found the narrative of the film was all over the map at times. And the ending of the movie almost ruined the whole thing for me. They could’ve toned it down and had a much more powerful scene (I’m guessing most won’t agree with me on that).
I left the theatre thinking it was okay, but very flawed. My girlfriend said it was her favorite movie in years. She insisted we go to a second screening (and with our debate about whether Paul Dano had a twin brother, seemed like a good idea).
I was glad I did. I enjoyed the movie a lot more, since I went in not expecting anything other than a character study of a sadistic man that will do anything to squash the competition.
It helped that we went to a diner afterwards and when somebody came in with a crying baby, I said “Bastard in a basket!”
She laughed so hard tears were running down her face.
When our food arrived, I took a bite out of my burger, before taking a straw and putting it in her chocolate shake. I channeled Daniel Day-Lewis, channeling of John Huston, and sternly proclaimed, “I drink your milkshake. I drink it up!”
You’ll have to see the movie to really appreciate those jokes. I’m guessing we’re going to be quoting this as much as we quoted lines from Silence of the Lambs like “I ate his liver with some Chianti and fava beans” and “Is she a great big fat chick?”
I’m giving this a B.