This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Don Hein’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
I've lost count on how many times I've seen this. At least twice in the theater and many times at home. I put it on today since The Master isn't out yet and I wanted a fix of some Paul Thomas Anderson and it did not disappoint.
One of my favorite things about this and several of Anderson's other films is that moment when the main character has this realization. In Magnolia all the characters actually sing "It's not going to stop 'til you wise up," which is a bit too on the nose, but here and in Boogie Nights, the camera just lingers on a character as they just sit there and "get it". Boogie Nights has Mark Wahlberg on a couch with John C. Reilly nervous beside him, Alfred Molina running around in a bathrobe and the skinny guy tossing firecrackers while he just sits and realizes his life sucks and if he doesn't stop, he's gonna wind up dead.
Here it's the moment Daniel shares with his "brother" on the beach. This guy is the only person we see Daniel sharing any sort of honesty with and he says they can get some girls liquored up and "take 'em to the Peach Tree Dance." He waits for some sort of recognition to this, even says it again and when the guy gives him a fake nod and smile, that's it. Daniel knows the truth. This guy is not his brother and he's been lying to him all along. There's a shot of Daniel for some time, moving his lips and having it soak in. Then we go to Daniel in the ocean, an insane look in his eye and a wave rolling up behind him and taking him towards the camera. Cut to the two at a brothel that just feels so damned dirty. We're in Daniel's head for the short scene as we just hear laughing and the "brother" asks him for money while laughing. We know what's coming and in the next scene, Daniel confronts him then shoots him in the head after his confession. It's amazing, intense, dirty, honest and well crafted.
That's just a few minutes of this amazing film. The cinematography is gorgeous to start with, but goes beyond to help tell the story. The acting is never less than hypnotizing, the production design has amazing attention to detail and in all the times I've watched it, I've never looked for how things were done and I never want to know. To me, those geysers are real. The falls down the shafts happened and they really put in a pipeline across California. I just don't want to know the mechanics of this film.
Re-watching it this time I noticed for the first time that the famous "milkshake" scene has one very long take, which culminates with "I drink your milkshake!" and Daniel tossing Eli down the bowling alley. Before it, he goes on and on, telling Eli about Paul, Eli's brother, selling the family out. He calls Eli the afterbirth, explains "DRAINAGE!" and finishes up with the milkshake example. But it's all Daniel Day Lewis going nuts and Paul Dano crying. And it's awesome.
I could go on and on. I truly love this movie and consider it one of my all time favorites. I can understand those who are bored by it and those that find it too dark, too angry. Me, I love it. I love the anger, the texture, the score, the battle between these two assholes and the cautionary element the whole thing leaves me with. At the end, we get what we're promised (how awesome is it to have the title pay off at the tail end of an over two hour movie?) and I'm left telling myself, "Whatever you do in this life, do not start down the path of Daniel Plainview. You'll end up angry, alone, sleeping on floors, shooting things in your mansion hallway and killing false prophets in your bowling alley downstairs." That's a lesson we can all stand to learn.