Wow! This 2007 movie lives up to its accolades as an American epic, with Daniel Day-Lewis earning an Academy Award for best actor for his mesmerizing portrayal of oil prospector/land speculator/entrepreneur Daniel Plainview. Set in the dust bowl areas of California between 1898 and 1927, Day-Lewis is riveting as a swindling, greedy boss out for land in his quest for his ever-expanding oil drilling operations.
I was sometimes reminded of a few other favorite films, including Paper Moon, No Country for Old Men (in the ironic, elliptical discussions between Plainview and devoutly religious Eli Sunday (Paul Dano), whose main concern is always The Church (he is also a healer and has some hilarious early scenes) and Dead Man (especially in the belching, clacking soundtrack, composed by Johhny Greenwood of Radiohead).
This movie is full of great acting, surrealistic scenes and dark humor. Plainview negotiating with the Standard Oil executives is one such scene. Some of his memorable lines include “I really don’t like people” and “I like all religions…” (the latter as he tries to assuage the townspeople early on that he is sincere in his plans).
The cinematography is often stunning (Academy Award winning, in fact. Comparisons to Citizen Kane are not out of place.) as in the scenes involving building the oil drilling apparatus against the western skies. This is quite a long film and the tension and turmoil builds throughout as Daniel becomes embroiled in conflicts as the ultimate capitalist, obsessed beyond his wits against the determined preacher. Like in HBO’s late great Carnivale series, this central battle at times reaches crazy, epic, disturbing proportions.
A film based on Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel “Oil”, this one is not to be missed!