What the hell was that?
Don’t get me wrong here; I’m not saying I hated the movie. On the contrary; I was thoroughly engrossed. Daniel Day Lewis’ performance is truly extraordinary. He’s charming, and what’s more impressive is that he’s still charming even after you figure out when he’s lying. And in certain moments he goes from charming to truly terrifying. I am in awe of his physical performance. His character, Daniel Plainview, sustains an injury very early in the movie that stays with him throughout the story, and Daniel Day Lewis manages to maintain that even as he alters the rest of his physicality based on his character’s age. It was remarkable to watch, even though a day later I keep wanting to mock his strange dialect.
The other performances are solid, particularly Dillon Freasier as the young H.W. Plainview and Paul Dano as a young preacher who butts heads with Daniel. Dano’s character is a bit confusing, because, well, apparently, he plays two different characters. Maybe. You never see them on screen together, and there are other hints that one of the two characters may, in fact, not exist. Or maybe not. It’s an odd plot point, and one I find distracting more than anything else. That said, Dano’s performance as Eli Sunday is carefully constructed as a negative image of Daniel Plainview. He is pale and soft-spoken when Plainview is tanned and powerful. But both characters have created their images to suit their purposes, which makes them almost a match for each other.
I suppose that reason alone might explain, to some degree at least, why the movie ends the way it does. I honestly don’t know how else it should have ended, but this particular ending comes from out of nowhere. It isn’t even that it takes some sort of turn that you don’t expect. It literally felt like the end of a different story. I’m not saying that writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson is wrong — I’m just saying I don’t get it. But again, I don’t know where else this particular story could have gone.
Do I recommend the movie? Yes I do. Very much so, but not because you will be entertained. I think you will leave the theater with a head full of questions, but I think, in this case, that’s the idea. And Daniel Day Lewis’ performance is something to behold, either way.
I have yet to see this movie.
I agree that the ending was really weird and hard to take, even though it did make some sense on a purely intellectual level. That seems to be something of a PT Anderson trademark. Anderson claims the milkshake speech was taken almost directly from transcripts of the testimony of Edward Doheny, the real life oil magnate on whom Plainview is based. Doheny was testifying before the Senate about the Teapot Dome scandal, in which his company had bribed the Secretary of the Interior to give them access to an oil field in California that was supposed to be saved as emergency reserves for the Navy.
For the most part, I felt a little jaded about the movie. PT Anderson has done similar work before (epic story, life-is-harsh sentiment, creepy music). Daniel Day-Lewis has done similar work before (weird voice, sudden shifts of emotion, super-invested physicality). They are two great craftsmen working at the top of their game, but there was enough of their signature moves in this movie that it didn’t feel particularly new to me.
That said, I felt the movie came alive whenever Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano were on screen together. Watching Paul Dano learn from Daniel Day-Lewis and bring his game up to the next level in each scene was truly thrilling. He could easily have been overshadowed by Daniel Day-Lewis, and it says volumes about the work of both the two actors and the director that he wasn’t.
Also, yay Ciarán Hinds!