I'll be honest, I didn't know what was supposed to be going on half the time. Had to look the thing up on Wikipedia. It's one of those movies, the ones so far into dullsville that even when you put all your effort into paying attention they just sort of malinger. And it's a shame because this could've been something good. Daniel Day Lewis is a magnificent actor - and magnificently nuts - but he feels so wasted here. He delivers a brilliant performance that makes you wonder if he didn't come here from 1900 in a time machine because he has everything down - speech patterns, body language, the works! - while everyone else is just muddling along.
Lewis plays Daniel Plainview, a silver miner who goes oilman because, well, he strikes oil in his failed silver mine. Dude's practical if nothing else. So the film jump cuts to him and his stolen son - it's complicated... and stupid - drifting around California trying to sucker all these little towns into signing over their drilling rights. This is what I was talking about - Lewis delivers a sales pitch that is a perfect recreation of the time and place, right down to the lips! Which just emphasizes how the folks he's delivering it to are clearly extras stuffed into old timey outfits.
|"I wanted a cat but you'll do."|
Wasted - that's what so much of this film was. Stalwart Irish actor Cirian Hinds even shows up for a while as Plainview's sidekick or something. This is the man who did Caeser so well in Rome you could totally understand folks wanting him to be emperor. In this droopy flick, he moons around on the sidelines before disappearing along with the adopted son. The kid got his eardrums blown out by a well explosion and Plainview was sick of dealing with his fussy shenanigans, like setting Plainview and his supposed half-brother on fire.
That's another thing - lots of almost relations running around this film. And why you ask? Hell, I'm still asking that...
And let's not forget Eli, the opey faced evangelist who I guess is supposed to be Plainview's foil. I'll grant that they compliment each other well, both being nasty egomaniacs but again it feels like it could've been so much more. So much meaner, a ripe slice of good ol' American Naturalism. McTeague fans know exactly what I mean - that cruel, deterministic world lying just below the surface of so called civilization. But it never gets that interesting.
I blame Anderson. He was just as gutless with Boogie Nights, taking the hilariously bleak story of the 70s porn industry and filtering it through maudlin humanist mushyness before coming out with a clearly tacked on happy ending. He doesn't follow that exact pattern here - though I found Plainview bludgeoning Eli in a private bowling ally to be quite happy - but the forced moralizing is still here. Plainview, a genuine up-by-the-bootstraps success story, is supposed to be oh so miserable and capitalism is bad and greed just leads to suffering and this is all in contrast to... What exactly? The vicious and sneaky Eli? Anderson takes what could be a fantastically amoral, Darwinian tale and hamstrings it with the forced moralizing so craved by Secular Protestants. And he fumbles it, 'cause he's that much of a hack.
Don't watch this. Just watch No Country For Old Men again. It won best picture over Anderson's mess and for once the Academy was right.