Partly based on Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel Oil!, Paul Thomas Anderson’s portrait of a megalomaniac is a grand accomplishment, on a different scale to earlier works such as Boogie Nights (1997) and Magnolia (1999).
The film is constructed around a bravura performance by Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview, an itinerant prospector who sniffs out oil in 1911 California, and sets in motion a feud with a fervent young preacher (Paul Dano) that will dog both men for decades.
Anderson handles the sprawling story with assurance and style, and the film also boasts spectacular photography of apocalyptic desert industry by Robert Elswit and an evocative musical soundscape by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. But it’s Daniel Day-Lewis’s picture. His Plainview is proud, cold, conflicted, compelling and some kind of symbol for the American century.