When Daniel Plainview - a ruthless oil prospector - learns of oil-rich land in California that can be bought cheaply, he moves his operation there and begins manipulating and exploiting the local landowners into selling him their property. Using his young adopted son H.W. to project the image of a caring family man, Plainview gains the cooperation of almost all the locals with lofty promises to build schools and cultivate the land to make their community flourish. Over time, Plainview's gradual accumulation of wealth and power causes his true self to surface, and he begins to slowly alienate himself from everyone in his life.
ActorsStarring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier, Ciarán Hinds, Kevin J. O'Connor, Hope Elizabeth Reeves, Colleen Foy, Barry Del Sherman, David Willis, Hans Howes, Sydney McCallister, Paul F. Tompkins
The movie starts in 1898, depicting the early days of California oil prospecting through the experiences of a Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis). Actually, he initially is a gold miner, but he happens upon the black version instead.
The story follows Plainview’s rise to becoming a genuine oil tycoon. In these early days of oil production, the work practices aren’t exactly safe and various incidents and accidents happen. As a result of one such accident, which killed one of his co-workers, Plainview adopts his son. Plainview goes around presenting himself as a family man, convincing people to sell or lease their land to him for oil development.
One day, a young man shows up telling him that there is easy oil to be found on his family’s ranch. Plainview travels there and under false pretences stays at the farm and finds there is indeed plenty of oil on the Sunday ranch. This is also when he is introduced to his soon-to-be adversary in the form of Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), son of the ranch owner and minister of the local community.
It took a little while to get into this movie. It starts off with a strange score that initially felt like this was going to be a bad horror movie / western mix. And there aren’t really any characters to like or root for. You don’t even really manage to have any emotions for the poor adopted son subplot. And then there are long parts of the movie without any spoken words. And the story and action are slow, very slow.
But somewhere after the first half hour I started to really enjoy it. Once you have adapted to its pace, mood and colour, you start to zoom in on the characters. And they are deeply unpleasant despite their facades. The slow pace helps in this regard, and the cinematography, whilst not outstanding, is very supportive of the mood. And after an hour I actually really liked that strange score. Daniel Day-Lewis is excellent throughout, and Paul Dano has brilliant moments.
And so it kept improving as the movie progressed, until the final act. Maybe the movie should have just ended half an hour earlier, but the final act doesn’t quite seem to fit with and live up to the standards of the rest of the movie. The final impression is still very good though, but in scoring the movie, the somewhat weaker last half hour took it down from an 8 to a 7 for me.