Based on book by Upton SinclairIt is hard to know how to describe this film. It is more of a character study than a story. Of course there is some plot, an oilman and his desire to suceed, but the story isn’t too important. What is important is the character of Daniel Plainview, as played by Oscar winning Daniel Day-Lewis.
The opening scenes show just how driven Daniel is. We watch him, working on his own, in a mine. No dialogue at all for around 15 minutes, just this man in a hole, digging, dynamiting up the earth, falling down the hole, injured and yet still having the drive to pull himself out of that hole and struggle back into town to get his bit of dirt evaluated.
Flash forward a few years and Plainview is still working just as hard, there are a few more men about, but that doesn’t mean life is any easier. A few more years and Plainview comes to a small town, wanting to be the one to “bring in their oil”. I’ve used the word driven already to describe him, but I’m using it again. He is driven, he must succeed, although we’re never really given any reason. There is no attempt made to explain just why Plainview is so ruthless, so single-minded in his pursuit of oil, and cash. Yes it is mentioned that he “hates most people” and wants to make enough money so he can live alone. But that really isn’t enough to say why he is the way he is. That isn’t what the film is about, it simply shows how this “oilman” is.
With Day-Lewis having won the Oscar, I don’t suppose I really need to mention the fact that he is utterly captivating in this role. Chewing scenery in the best possible way. It also won the cinematography Oscar, and it deserves that too. But it is as a whole that this film works. Every supporting role is perfect, Paul Dano is simply perfect in his role; and the music, almost operatic in feel, it is a weird blend of the perfectly fitting and the disturbing. All in all, this film is highly recommended.