Like a window on to human consciousness itself, Paul Thomas Anderson’s timeless historical drama, set against the backdrop of the Southern California oil boom, is a visually stunning and operatic portrait of American greed, capitalism and violence.
Based on Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel Oil!, the story follows mineral prospector Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis, in a ferocious, Oscar-winning performance) and the brutal, bloody founding of his American oil empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As Plainview transforms from hard-working prospector to vicious, maniacal oil baron, the dark side of the American dream is laid bare against a backdrop of frontier capitalism and manifest destiny gone horribly wrong. When he meets a fervent young preacher named Eli Sunday(Paul Dano), whose theology can’t compete with Plainview’s overwhelming greed, it sets in motion a feud between the two men that will dog them both for decades.
A formal tour de force, this masterpiece of American filmmaking is a sometimes shocking, always thrilling work that both employs and ingeniously transcends the conventions of cinema. Featuring a gorgeous, anachronistic soundtrack by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, a raft of memorable scenes and stunning cinematography by Robert Elswit, this dark and soaring drama delivers a mesmerising character study of power and corruption in the grand tradition.