This film aspires to be a sweeping epic about family, greed, religion, and oil, centred around a turn-of-the-century prospector. It was released a week apart from No Country For Old Men (they were even filmed at the same time in the same area of Texas), and both films were seen as behemoths battling it out for Oscar glory. History seems to be favouring No Country For Old Men, and rightly so.
Daniel Day-Lewis turns in the performance of a lifetime as amoral Daniel Plainview (winning his first Best Actor Oscar for 18 years), but the rest of the film just gets swallowed up by him. If Eli the preacher had been cast as someone capable of facing up to Day-Lewis, the result would have been astounding - but Paul Dano fails to cut it. Who the hell is he anyway?
The film progresses slowly, and somehow doesn't quite hold together. The characters do not grow and it's hard to care about any of them. There is nothing in this movie as big as Day-Lewis' performance, and the story remains off balance from start to finish because of it. I'm glad I watched it, it's a great film, but it's a hard film to enjoy.
Looking through director Paul Thomas Anderson's other films (in particular Magnolia and Boogie Nights), I'm beginning to suspect that I just don't like his style...
The fictional character of Daniel Plainview bears some resemblance to a real early 20th-century Californian oil tycoon named Edward L. Doheny. The monologue about milkshake delivered in the film is based on transcripts of congressional hearings concerning the Teapot Dome Scandal, in which Doheny had been accused of bribing a political official. The film's concluding scene was filmed at Greystone Manor, a California estate Doheny built as a present for his only son.