So it’s no surprise that Anderson, Lewis and the movie itself have all received Oscar nominations. The one category in which the movie is most likely to bag an Oscar is the Best Actor. Lewis delivers what could possibly be one of the best performances of the decade. It’s a thrill to see Lewis tower in the vast landscape ably supported by fine performances by the likes of Paul Dano and a weirdly beautiful score by the rock group Radiohead’s guitarist Johnny Greenwood. On one level, the movie has two characters who are opposite on the surface but deep down are mirror images of greed, ambition and eventually murderous intentions.
The movie opens with some of the most powerful images underscored by profound music with not a word uttered for almost 20 minutes. It is 1898 and Daniel Plainview (Lewis) is digging for silver in a mine, which he accidentally discovers. And it becomes his life’s obsession. While drilling for oil, his partner dies and Plainview takes his son as his own. This works out well for him because the young boy gives him a look of a responsible family man when he travels to settle business deals. The action begins when a farm boy tells him they might have oil on their farm. But when Plainview gets there, he begins to butt heads with the boy’s brother Eli (Paul Dano). Eli is an ambitious preacher who wants to build a church with the money earned from oil. The rest of the movie chronicles the battle between these two driven, ambitious and manipulative men.
This is Anderson’s fifth movie and is quite a detour from "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia". Anderson is slowly becoming one of the best young directors around. Though this is the first movie he has directed and has not written, it was his idea to base the movie on a 1927 Upton Sinclair novel called "Oil!" The movie has some very clear references to earlier classics like "Giant" in 1956. Tackling themes like greed and ambition, we also get to see capitalism in action in all its glory and shame.
Following Plainview’s life, we get a prescient glimpse of the beginning of the oil industry. Progress in society is often heralded, but too often is built on the backs of those who sometimes had to pay in blood. Another great building block of American society is religion. Dano delivers an incredible performance as the pastor who uses his religion to mask ugly ambitions. As the movie unfolds, we see how a young America’s drive to succeed and its ambiguous religious fervour at times make for uneasy bedfellows.
Though the story is linear, it does at times try our patience because of its pace. But for true epic filmmaking with towering performances, there will be no better film than ‘There Will be Blood" this year.