"There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking. I want to earn enough money that I can get away from everyone."
Written & Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano
My rating: 8/10
The highly anticipated new film from Paul Thomas Anderson (his last film being 2002's Punch Drunk Love) is a complete change of pace from all of his previous work. The epitome of indie auteur, Mr. Anderson takes on the form of the great Orson Welles (who was, I guess, the original indie auteur) in this huge epic story of the lust for money and power in the early part of 20th Century America.
Contrary to some criticisms I had heard about this film, and my own misgivings, Anderson does not attempt to delineate the greed of this great oilman to the wild capitalism in today's society. He tells a story, utterly unpolitically, which is a brave and rare thing to do these days and for all the people who label Anderson as pretentious, this films lack of agenda makes a great counter-argument!
The film follows Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), a man who came from nothing to build a huge oil company. The film mostly involves his involvement with a town called Little Boston and how he manages to wrangle it from the townspeople with the false hope of economic resurgence and turns it into an oilfield.
The central relationships are between Plainview and his son, H.W., who he rescued from a life as an orphan and aimed to teach his skills to, and Plainview's nemesis, a local preacher, Eli Sunday. His close relationship with his son is a rocky one. His closeness and clear adoration of him seems paternal at first but he proves time and time again that his son, like anyone else is merely a companion to keep him from being completely alone. The central dramatic struggle however, is between Plainview and Eli. This relationship was the main problem I had with the film. Eli Sunday's character goes through several unlikely changes and a lot is presumed about him unfairly that makes little sense. Ultimately, Eli's character could have been the most interesting in the film and Paul Dano's performance was so strong that to tamper with the character seemed criminal.
At 160 minutes, this film is no walk in the park and because it is so challenging in its storytelling that you tend to feel physically drained by the end. However, the difference between whether you leave the cinema pleased or not will depend on how you take to Anderson's frankly insane denouement. Personally, after a long struggle to make my peace with it, I decided that I just wasn't comfortable with where the story went as it completely turned on its head, creating issues that had not been foreshadowed or referred to. However, many people were charmed by the film's change of pace from Welles to slapstick oddness. Many people whose opinions I respect felt it was profound and brave. Although I cannot agree, I do challenge audiences to watch it and decide for themselves.
Overall, the plot, as it was for the first 140 minutes is wonderfully gripping, full of wonderful characters and actors. Daniel Plainview is a complex, nerve-shreddingly soulless character that, weeks after the event, I am still picking apart psychologically, and his nemesis Eli is a slimy do-gooder who is so full of stifled rage that it is difficult to watch. It plays like a movie from the golden age of Hollywood and it proves that the wonderful Mr. Anderson really is living up to his potential and has given us, yet again, a philosophically rich, beautifully shot portrait of some really complex characters.
- Charlene Lydon 18/01/08