It opened at the Nugget last night. And I saw it opening night. And you know how I had hoped that it would blow my mind so much that all my inner conflict about rooting for No Country for Old Men or Juno would vanish? Yeah, that kind of happened.
Sweet Jesus this is an excellent film. On a purely technical level, it at least matches and probably surpasses No Country. It should be a crime that Jonny Greenwood’s score isn’t nominated; it’s incredible, and far more organic than anything I’ve heard him do before. The cinematography, especially for the gritty, wordless drilling sequences in the beginning, is gorgeous.
Daniel Day-Lewis, of course, is a God among men. About five minutes in, I forgot anyone was acting. Daniel Plainview was too much of a real person for that to be true. And from the scenes with the Standard Oil executives to the climactic confrontation with Eli, Plainview is subtly, complexly acted, with bursts of emotion that could have easily devolved into scenery-chewing with a lesser actor but which Day-Lewis was more than capable of saving. Paul Dano is almost as impressive. He doesn’t take on a new accent the way Day-Lewis does, but his scenes in the church and in Plainview’s mansion show a power I had never imagined the mute-by-choice kid from Little Miss Sunshine could muster. Javier Bardem should thank his lucky stars that Dano isn’t nominated for supporting actor, since he’d give Bardem a run for his money.
The ending gets a lot of crap from even lovers of the film like Chris Orr, but I think it’s essential. As Montgomery Burns once said, “Family. Religion. Friendship. These are the three demons you must slay if you wish to succeed in business.” Plainview had slain friendship before he even arrived to drill in Little Boston. Through his dealings with his “brother” and the last scene with H.W., family fell by the wayside too. And as he cracked Eli’s skull open with a bowling pin, religion, that demon which had gnawed at him throughout his time in Little Boston, was finally vanquished. Plainview had finally exorcised all the humane elements of his life, leaving a pure capitalist, homo economicus incarnate. And that’s an ugly beast, even uglier than Plainview had been previously.
So, yeah. I expect to be saying “I drink your milkshake” at random intervals for the foreseeable future.