Even though I don’t want to admit this, I went into this film thinking that 2 hours and 48 minutes was a bit much. I mean, I’m all for the epic tale, but I always worry that movies will drag. Maybe I’ve seen too many unnecessarily long films that take advantage of the Art of Cinema and drag it out until we want to shoot the projector.
Daniel Day-Lewis, as Daniel Plainview, was so simultaneously troubled and subdued and fickled and confident and scared. It was the work of a lifetime, an achievement toward which other actors should want to strive. His caterpillar moustache was essential to the role – who knew that concentrated facial hair could hide a person almost completely? And his creepily gentile voice was deceptive and steady, unlike his persona.
I applaud the supporting performances as well, particularly those of generations younger than DDL. Paul Sano, who played the presumably schizophrenic Eli/Paul Sunday, can evoke some wicked passion in his soliloquies. And that’s exactly what they were: Shakespearean, corrupt, fabricated monologues of frightening religious fervor. Dillon Freasier, as Daniel Plainview’s young son H.W., took on some impressively heavy themes for an 11-year-old kid.
I realized, in discussing the film with a friend, that the soundtrack is what really makes it. I say this not to downplay the acting performances, because I found all of them laudable and exemplary of human struggle, but Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood must have encountered something complex within himself to compose such discordant, angst-ridden, perfectly fitting tones. I shuddered to myself when the elderly couple to my left in the theater whispered that “The music is driving me crazy!” – it was so obscenely necessary in the film, because it conveyed so much of the emotion left intentionally blank on the actors’ faces.
I can’t wait to see what the Oscars hold for PTA and crew – a story like Upton Sinclair’s Oil! might hold too much significance for Hollywood to handle.