This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Andrew Boley’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Film #19 of The December Project
So this is around my 25th viewing of this movie. It's my personal favorite movie of all time and an undisputed American masterpiece.
First of all Daniel Plainview is not an evil man. A lot of people seem to be under the assumption that he is one of the greatest villains of all time. I think this is completely false, and this assumption leads me to believe that whoever believes this doesn't understand the movie in the slightest. Daniel is an ambitious man, with a lot of pain in his past. He is insecure, always needing a partner to share in his business plans. He seems to really love children, always wanting to help Mary Sunday. Daniel is a single father. He becomes a father because he and another man went in a well and the other man was killed in a rig accident. He feels responsible and so he takes on this man's child. There we plenty of options. He could've found the man's family and gave the child to them. He could've talked to adoption agencies or orphanages. But he doesn't, because he is a decent man. This whole sequence is even more amazing because there is no dialogue, it's up to you to follow what is going on. So out of kindness, or whatever you want to call it he raises a child, which is no easy thing NOW. But 100 years ago, a man without a wife, who is running around the country trying to get an oil business started seems almost impossible. So people that think he decided to keep the kid to make money is really a stretch because the amount of work it takes to raise a kid cancels out this small advantage he has. If anything I think it would make it MORE difficult to travel and do the things he has to do to make his business work. He raises his son to the best of his ability. When he becomes deaf he finds a teacher for him. He feels guilt for sending his son off and so he brings him back. He is a troubled man, and not the world's greatest father, but he is still a decent man. This is what makes the movie work. He is an empathetic man while also not vying for empathy. He wants no pity, just money. He's an oil man.
The film making in this movie is beyond amazing, it's spectacular. This is a movie made for hyperbole. Watching it on Blu Ray is great, this movie looks nothing like when it was made, and it looks like nothing that came before it.
The originality is what makes this film a masterpiece. From the characters, to the story, to the film making aspects to the dialogue to the cinematography. It's all utterly ambitious and completely original.
Here are a couple notes I have on details I love with the film.
-I love the shot of HW and Daniel walking around the Sunday ranch quail hunting. HW comes running to find Daniel to show him what he found. Daniel is walking away from the camera into the trees. It looks like a painting.
-I love the oil oozing out of the discovery well in the opening scene.
-I love the music que hitting when the film opens of the mountain range. Then, after he breaks his leg and has to drag himself back to safety the camera pans back up to the same shot and the same que hits. That journey could be a movie unto itself, but it's not. We're supposed to understand how much strength and determination this man has and what that journey means. No word is spoken about it.
-After Eli gets smothered by Daniel in the oil pit, out of rage that his son is deaf and there is nothing he can do, we cut to the Sunday dinner table. And then it cuts to Eli just sitting there with dirt on his face glaring at his father.
-I love all the scenes of Daniel and his crew setting up tripod like devices for where the pipeline will go. Especially the scene after he visits the cabin with his supposed brother. They're riding horses, and the score is just amazing and the shots are breathtaking.
-The scene after the beach scene where Daniel realizes his brother isn't who he says he is. They are in a brothel and all we see is Daniel in the shot. No women, no nothing. We just hear his supposed brother talking to a woman and she is cackling, it's almost like a nightmare. Daniel just gets angrier and angrier. It's really amazing.
-I'm going to come in your house one night and come to your room and slit your throat!
-There is a shot towards the end of the 2nd act where HW and Mary are playing. They are on the porch of a house and HW jumps off the porch out of frame and then Mary does the same thing. It then cuts to them getting married. It's one of the greatest transition shots in cinematic history.
-After Daniel screams at his son that he's a bastard in a basket he drunkenly walks off down the hallway and down the stairs. It cuts to HW playing with his Dad outside of the derrick and Daniel fools around with him and he walks away from HW and the frame. It then cuts to Daniel falling down the stairs. Implying that that relationship is gone and it hurts Daniel immensely. This sets up his rage at Eli.
This movie is about the turn of the century. The move from the church running the socialized world and towards corporate America running the world. The church can provide spiritual guidance but when it comes to bread, and schools and roads the man with the money is gonna win. It's about what it takes to be successful in America. It's about the importance of family. It's about Daniel Plainview. It's a most amazing film that will never be forgotten and always be talked about for as long as the Mayans say we will be on this earth.