Jason Pettus’s review published on Letterboxd:
2017 movie viewings, #48. As always at the end of each month, I found myself at the end of January speeding through several movies that were about to be dropped from Netflix Streaming; and this most recent viewing of Paul Thomas Anderson's masterpiece, perhaps my third or fourth viewing of it altogether at this point, really highlighted this time what a very pure example this is of a Great American Tragedy, in terms of it being really specific to America and its tragic elements being so complexly intertwined with capitalism and the cult of the individual. Loosely adapted from an Upton Sinclair novel but almost nothing like the original here in its final cinematic form, it's basically the story of a born misanthrope who hates the human race and all the people who make it up, and who obsessively pursues oil opportunities along the Victorian-Age American frontier so to accumulate enough wealth to get as far the fuck away from the dirty, corrupt humans as possible; but the act of accumulating this wealth ironically brings out the worst of human behavior in the people around him, becoming a vicious self-fulfilling cycle that eventually leaves our anti-villain* Daniel Plainview a bitter, piss-filled, vindictive old man, shambling around his empty mansion in a tattered bathrobe muttering curses about all the people who have done him wrong, his goal finally fulfilled but with the last vestiges of his humanity stripped from him in the process.
That's a huge downer of a story, one with no sense of redemption and that basically confirms every dark fear you've ever had about the inherent worthlessness of humanity; so big kudos must go to Anderson for making this an engaging, compelling movie experience anyway, mostly through the use of stunning cinematography, sets and costumes, an unexpectedly futuristic-sounding dissonant score by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, and some of the finest acting that's ever been coaxed out of Daniel Day-Lewis (which is saying quite a lot, given the other roles he's played over the years). It's a movie that flies along at a gripping pace, sucking you in to its plot mechanics of dirty preachers, conniving corporate executives, and the kind of workplace conditions that would give OSHA a conniption fit; and it isn't until the whole thing is over and you've had a chance to reflect that you realize just what a horribly cynical, utterly dark tale it is that you've just watched, basically confirmation of every terrible thing Plainview thinks about the human race as he grits his teeth and joylessly tries to get on with his life. It's for these kinds of masterful subtleties in character development that we celebrate Paul Thomas Anderson as a filmmaker, which is why I'll always prefer these kinds of "get inside your head" mindfuck movies like this and The Master over his more bombastic and gimmicky films like Punch Drunk Love or Inherent Vice. Strongly recommended, as is all of Anderson's work; if you still have never seen his movies, you're missing out on a major piece of 21st-century film history, a fact you should rectify as soon as possible.
*"Anti-villain" is a term I invented at my literary website about a decade ago, to describe a class of novels I found myself really enjoying but that didn't seem to have a distinct genre name of their own. It's basically the other side of the same coin as the more well-known "anti-hero" story; for while an anti-hero is someone who at first seems like a traditional bad guy (a criminal, a juvenile delinquent) who eventually displays the kind of moral code and ethical consistency that lets us root for him like we would a good guy, an anti-villain is someone who seems at first like he's going to be a traditional good guy who we start out rooting for, but more and more proves himself to actually be a horrible human being who repulses us by the end of the story. The more you look for it, the more you realize that this is becoming a major hallmark of the so-called "Millennialism" arts (or whatever you want to call the artistic movement after Postmodernism, which I define as starting right around 9/11), with the most famous example perhaps being Walter White from Breaking Bad.