In the scorching California plains of 1898, Daniel Plainview ( played by Daniel Day Lewis) is a miner, who bathed in sweat, blackened soil, and dust spends his days burrowing away in the depths of the earth in search of minerals. One day he accidentally stumbles upon some oil.
Eventually Plainview gains a partner and as they drill further. But when his partner dies in a tragic on the job accident, he inherits his partners’ infant son H.W, who he raises as his own.
The pair travel about, as the budding oil man becomes a more and more successful and accomplished oil magnate, migrating from town to town attempting to persuade residents in what Plainview himself calls a “plain-spoken” approach, undervaluing his clients’ share of the profits.
Soon he is lured by the prospects of finding a well-spring of oil in a small town of ramshackle ‘old west’ style buildings known as “Little Boston”, inhabited by amongst others the devoutly religious Sunday family, where Eli, the young evangelist son of the Sunday family, passionately preaches and has dreams both of wealth and to strengthening his own church.
Soon Plainview’s company begins purchasing property all about the community, in an attempt to drill for oil and construct a pipeline leading right to the sea, tensions begin to build between he and Eli, as well as the rest of the townspeople.
As he comes closer and closer to his dreams of building an oil pipeline and amassing a massive fortune though,Plainview becomes consumed by greed and a ruthless streak that makes all around him a competitor and he will stop at nothing to protect his fortune and full fill his own ambitions even at the price of his own soul.
The story, (at least partially inspired by the Upton Sinclair’s novel “Oil”)is exciting and large, an epic masterpiece. A strange yet delicious marriage of sorts between “Citizen Kane” and “Giant”. But it more then stands on its own. The cinematography with its wide shots of the desert landscape, the feel of the movie taking the spirit and times with it, while still remaining relevant are superbly done.
Occasionally, in a few instances the dialogue falls a little flat, but it more then compensates for the occasional lapse throughout the film. It strikes the right balance, quick without being rushed, dramatic without being ridiculous, long without being drawn out.
The cast all around shines, including Paul Dano, who plays Eli the young preacher that Daniel often finds himself clashing with. But as always Daniel Day Lewis seizes the bulk of his attention with his masterful portrayal of a laborer, turned businessman, turned miserable Howard Hughes style figure whom one can easily be repelled by, but never completely hate.
This movie is highly relevant today, as we as a society examine the relationship of big business (especially oil) and those they affect. It also offers a glimpse of what untamed ambition and ruthlessness can do to an individual.
Two things about this picture are clear. It carries itself like a winner and his more then able to carry the weight that goes with it and secondly YOU need to go see it.