Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film leaves behind his usual setting of a sprawling Los Angeles, starting off in the unfamiliar territory of 1890's oil county prospector Daniel Plainview silently, tirelessly digs for oil. An accident leaves Plainview with an adopted son and as 'partners' they build a small empire striking big in a remote Californian town, thanks to a tip-off from a local. The town prospers, but so does the church - and preacher Eli Sunday relentlessly pursues Plainview's apparent lack of faith.
The scenery is spectacular and Daniel Day Lewis is an undeniable tour de force, chewing his ways through the scenery and dominating most everyone in his path. Little Miss Sunshine's Paul Dano isn't bad as impassioned preacher Eli, youngster Dillon Freasier is impressive as Plainview Jnr and Ciaran Hinds puts in a good show in a seemingly cut-back role as right-hand man Fletcher Hamilton - and here lies the problem. For a film that's nearly three hours long it's surprising to feel like there's several reels missing.
After finding it's stride and building up a great confrontation between business and religion, the film seemed like it was shaping up as a thrilling analogy of the west's ever-present quest for oil at all costs - including religion. Three quarters of the way through however, things take an inexplicable turn for the worst. The story heads off-course, then jumps forward 20-odd years with no real justification - leaving us with the conclusion to a film we only feel we saw half of.
The score by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood deserves special mention - evocative and haunting, perhaps misleadingly building a brooding sense of menace that the film did not live up to. While Greenwood's score never stopped, the plot was deralied long before the finish line. Key moments were confusingly handled - and not in a deliberately oblique way, just in a badly edited way. The best acting in the world can't save a shoddy story and script - and while individual scenes had great merit, as a complete work it was sadly crippled.