This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Juan Tarrio’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
The December Project film #4.
I watched this last night because of all the great reviews I had read but not really having in mind that this was a Paul Thomas Anderson movie (until I saw it in the opening credits, obviously). This is my first PTA movie, and I will definitely keep checking out his filmography going forward.
It is hard for me to look back and think of a movie where Daniel Day-Lewis hasn't provided a breathtaking performance. From In the Name of the Father to The Last of the Mohicans or Gangs of New York, he is simply and plainly one of the best actors in movie history. Such is so that I now urgently need to right a horrible wrong and watch My Left Foot ASAP. In this film, he nails it one more time; his Oscar award for this performance was incredibly well deserved.
The supporting performances are also very good. Paul Dano is excellent as Eli (and Paul) Sunday and Dillon Freasier is also surprisingly great as HW, and I say surprisingly because according to his bio on IMDb he wasn't even an actor and this is his only film, but I feel he was perfect in the role of Daniel Plainview's son.
The film tells the story of Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis), a hard working oil man turned into oil tycoon thanks to his relentless tactics. He sells himself to the communities he wants to exploit as a family man, tugging his adoptive son HW along for the show. You can never be completely sure if he actually really loves his son or if he just uses him for his own gain. There are a couple of instances of the film where he seems genuinely concerned about his son's well-being and regretful for not having done right by him, but PTA very cleverly doesn't give you an answer, he lets you decide for yourself what it's going to be. I choose to believe that he truly and deeply loves the boy, even if the initially took him for other motives. The scene at the baptism where he cries "I have abandoned my son!" was one of the most intense and heartbreaking moments in the film. Also, at the end, when he tells his son that he's not his real father, that he's just a bastard in a basket, I could sense his genuine devastation for losing his son underneath the rage. The relationship of Daniel Plainview with HW is one of the pillars of this movie.
The relationship between Daniel and Eli Sunday is the second pillar of this film. Here we can see a collision between two philosophies of life that are often at war with each other: faith and business. From the very beginning you can feel there is a confrontation brewing between Daniel and Eli. Eli wants Daniel to embrace the faith and join his congregation, and at the same time Daniel wants to show Eli that you he can be a successful businessman without God. And we all know how it ends ;).
Finally, the film is technically perfect. The cinematography is amazing, the score really helps you get into the mood of the characters and each situation. For the first 15-20 minutes of the film there isn't a single word spoken and yet it manages to keep you incredibly engaged in what's happening and genuinely interested in what's going to happen next.