Paul Thomas Anderson’s dark slice of Americana starts with Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) digging in a hole for gold in 1898; when oil is struck, his descent into utter madness begins (or was he mad to begin with?) Loosely based on Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel Oil!, Anderson’s script focuses on two towering figures: the brutal, animalistic Plainview, and the idealistic and manipulative faith-healer Eli Sunday (Paul Dano). Both need each other — Sunday is needed so Plainview can access a property with an “ocean of oil underneath”; Plainview is needed so Sunday can expand his congregation and give him legitimacy. Both need each other to amass great wealth. Each, in his own way, is an unforgivable capitalist. When Plainview’s faithful son is injured in an explosion (he becomes deaf), all the father can do is stare at the burning oil derrick, in hunger and awe. This particular shot could have come from a silent film like von Stroheim’s Greed; in fact, though the film has been compared to Citizen Kane and Treasure of the Sierra Madre, I think it owes a greater debt to the silent films of von Stroheim , and also Murnau and Lang, and the naturalism of novelists such as Dreier, Norris and Zola. Robert Elswit’s cinematography is both ethereal and rooted in a brutal reality — combined with Johnny Greenwood’s creepily dissonant score, at times the film seems as if from another age altogether. Although the film is ostensibly about the quest for oil and the nature of capitalistic greed, ultimately it comes down to two opposing polarities: Plainview (the name implies a forthright vision) vs. Sunday (brightness and light) and how they each destroy each other. Though Plainview is a crook, theif and murderer, we have sympathy for him as he tries (and fails) to be a good father to his adopted son, take care of his oil workers, and achieve his vision; and yet Sunday elicits no sympathy at all through his venality and opportunism. Bizarre, Howard-Hughes-like final sequence initially seems out of place with the rest of the film, but it makes thematic sense and is in keeping with what the film is ultimately about: how when two towering figures work to rape their land and people together, untimately they must destroy each other. He who is the more hateful, and the more insane, shall be the victor. Film would be flawless were it not for a curious emotional distance; Anderson writes dialogue (and directs his performers) without using any colloquialisms, contractions, or slang — this extremely mannered style helps to give a sense of determinism, but also keeps us at a distance.