Andrew Boley’s review published on Letterboxd:
What can I say. This movie is amazing. I want to write a review about it but what can I say that hasn't been said? Every aspect is amazing, obviously. What is more amazing is the boldness of the story. The originality, what this film says about our country, what this film says about PT Anderson, what this film says about film. First of all the fact that this is PTs follow up to the vastly underrated Punch Drunk Love is almost hard to fathom. I mean I can't think of such a drastic change in cinema history, can you? So anyway here are a couple thoughts and observations I have made on the film:
- Daniel Plainview is not an evil man. On first viewing, quite like The Master, the protagonist seems to be a cruel, money hungry, soul-less scam artist. But on further viewings he becomes more of a heart broken man. From his choice to take on the child after his fellow oilman gets killed next to him in a well, to him wanting to talk about his child hood to his fake brother. He loves children, he is always trying to make sure Mary is taken care of. Some have said he takes on HW to make money, this is wrong on a lot of levels. First, the reason he takes HW is because his coworker dies instead of him in the well and he feels responsibility and maybe he feels guilt. He does not make that decision to make money, how could he have thought while covered in oil after a near death experience of this. Now he may later use the fact that he is a single father to convince land owners to let him drill on their property but he by no means just takes HW on to give him this advantage. Yes he kills the drifter that acts as his brother, but I think he is so distraught and upset that he let him in his life and trusted him and opened up to him that he got caught up in his anger. He cries uncontrollably when he reads the journal and thinks of his own childhood and his brother's death, which he didn't know about until then. The end scene in the bowling alley is brought on because of his guilt over what he has said to his son, and the fact that his relationship is done. There is a brief flashback to him remembering HW playing with him outside of the derrick and he walks away towards the derrick, then cut to Daniel falling down his stairs in a drunken haze. This seems to show his guilt and emotional pain. All I can say is this man is not evil, he is very flawed but he really is not a terrible person as so many have thought.
-The main conflict between Daniel and Eli is a way of showing the battle for the hearts and minds of America during the turn of the century. Can the church still hold these people in its grasp using religious tactics and spiritual ideals or is capitalism going to win. it seems to show that bringing money into this community through capitalism really has more that can get the people what they want. Bread, money, schools, businesses. The church tries to use it's hold on the community's heart to get in business with the oilmen but it is obviously not the big dog it used to be.
-The final act is amazing and makes this film an all time classic. Up until older Daniel shows up the film is great and has all the ideas percolating toward the top of the film. But when the battle between Daniel and Eli comes to it's peak we realize this film is on another level and will take risks to shock and awe us. It is bold and ambitious and because of that it will continue to blow people away.
-Every time we see oil something terrible happens.
-The shot at the bar with Daniel and his supposed brother is amazing. Showing just Daniel in the frame, we hear laughing and hear people talking but we only see Daniel who is caught up in his hatred of this supposed brother.