Well, I must say, that was rather more delightfully fucked up than I’d allowed myself to hope for. In tone, theme, and visual texture, the movie feels old beyond its years, and that’s, emphatically, a Good Thing. I smell Citizen Kane, Bonnie and Clyde, Badlands, Apocalypse Now, Scarface, The Godfather, The Aviator . . . I can’t believe my own ears! I liked Boogie Nights, and kept my gorge down for Magnolia, but this is another thing altogether: A genuine 1974 Hollywood masterpiece.
But hey, I have to gripe about something(s). Two of the things that make the movie so successful are also what make it somewhat annoying. First, the sound in this flick is really obnoxious. You can always tell when things are on the brink of lapsing into psychosis, because you hear that weird Dolby effect that sounds like a zillion killer bees are eating your cerebellum. Second, let’s face it, this movie is essentially hijacked by its star, since Anderson is obviously flat-out terrified by Daniel Day Lewis, who seriously seems fully capable of murdering a gaffer and drinking his blood should the notion strike him. Anderson, understandably but not excusably, has a habit of just pointing the camera at Lewis, closing his eyes and crossing his fingers, and letting the crazy zillionaire Irish neo-Brando go off. I credit you this, Anderson: You got yer money’s worth out of yer star.
Thematically, the sweet spot I’m most tickled on is the parallel rise of the rapacious evangelist and the rapacious capitalist. It’s hard to tell who’s more ambitious or cutthroat, the oilman or the preacher, until — spoiler alert! — one of them smashes the other’s brains out. I bet you can’t guess!