Men winch an iron pole up the well, but it comes loose and quickly descends. Oil’s bubbling up through the floor. Soon, bucket after bucket of it is brought up and added to a growing reservoir. The bucket breaks and kills a man at the bottom. Daniel Plainview feeds the newly-orphaned baby whisky and adopts it.
Daniel tells the gathered ladies and gentlemen his new well at Coyote Hills is coming in. It’s flowing at 2,000 barrels and bringing him $5,000 a week. Daniel has two others drilling and sixteen producing at Antelope.
Out of everyone that begs for a chance to drill their lots, maybe one in twenty will be oilmen. The rest are speculators trying to get between the landowners and the oilmen. Daniel does his own drilling. The men working for him are experienced men.
Daniel runs a family business, presenting his son and partner, HW Plainview. Daniel’s fixed like no other company in the field because his Coyote Hills well has just come in and he has tools ready to put to work.
Daniel can have them there in a week. He can get the lumber for the derricks. He can guarantee to start drilling and to put up the cash to back his word. The place descends into yelling, so Daniel leaves.
Daniel tells Mr and Mrs Bankside he can have a well drilling within ten days, but soon the fields will be dry. Daniel offers Bankside a $1,000 bonus on his lot. This will be one sixth, plus a guarantee to start drilling within ten days.
Paul Sunday asks what Daniel pays for a place that has oil. Paul has oil seeping through the ground. He says Daniel should give him $500 immediately and Paul will tell Daniel where it is. Daniel offers $100 and, if it proves to be promising, Paul will get a $1,000 bonus. Paul suggests $600.
Daniel’s colleague, Fletcher, asks if there’s sulphur around or alkali deposits. Paul says there’s alkali nearby. Paul doesn’t know sulphur. Daniel offers $500. Paul comes from Little Boston in Isabella County.
On a map, Paul points specifically to Spur Station at Little Boston, indicating places Standard Oil is buying up. Paul lives with his father, mother, sisters and twin brother. It’s a goat farm. Paul’s certain the oil is there.
Daniel visits the Sunday ranch with HW pretending to be hunting quail. Abel Sunday is a hospitable host. In private, HW gets earthquake oil on his shoe. Daniel and HW hug and laugh. They’ll build a pipeline to Port Hueneme or Santa Paula and do a deal with Union Oil.
Eli Sunday wants six dollars an acre for the ranch. Daniel offers $3,700. Eli wants more. Abel says the Lord has sent Daniel. Eli says there’s oil there. Daniel says it’s costly to drill. Seepage doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything underneath. Eli wants $10,000 for his church.
Daniel says if they drill and the well produces, he’ll give the church a $5,000 signing bonus. Eli demands $10,000. Daniel suggests Eli find someone else to invest and put in the hard work. Abel agrees to the deal. Daniel shakes hands with both men.
For Daniel, the buying-up was very successful, but for one holdout called William Bandy. Bandy wants Daniel to visit him. Daniel says Bandy’s boosting his price, adding that he’ll come around.
Daniel addresses the townsfolk. He’s an oilman with many wells flowing at many thousand barrels per day. He works side-by-side with his wonderful son, HW. Daniel suggests building a wonderful school in Little Boston.
Daniel and his men will also dig water wells. There’ll be new roads, agriculture, employment, education. Daniel assures the people that if he finds oil, the community will flourish. HW throws a big lever and the derrick starts working. The crowd applauds.
Daniel goes to Eli’s church “The Church of the Third Revelation”. Eli establishes that dear Mrs Hunter has arthritis. Eli blames the Devil. He commands the ghost to get out. Eli makes louder and louder threats. The parishioners also start yelling. Daniel’s the only one not exhilarated. Eli dances with Mrs Hunter.
At the derrick, gas bursts up through the floor taking machinery and people with it. HW’s blown onto his back. Oil gushes into the air. Daniel quickly carries HW safely into the mess room. HW can’t hear his own voice. The oil catches fire and needs tending to. Daniel breaks the support cables surrounding the well. The gusher’s still burning after sundown. Daniel’s pleased there’s a whole ocean of oil under their feet and only he can reach it.
Next day, the burning gusher is extinguished using carefully-placed dynamite. Daniel pins down HW while a doctor looks in his ears. Daniel makes Fletcher find Bob Brody from San Francisco to help teach HW.
Eli asks Daniel when the town gets paid. Daniel floors Eli, asking when he’s going to cure HW. Eli says if he’d blessed the well, it wouldn’t have happened. Daniel drags Eli across the floor by his hair, suggesting Eli splash around in the mud. Daniel threatens to bury Eli underground.
Henry Plainview from Fond du Lac finds Daniel and confirms his mother’s Mary Branch. Henry read about Daniel’s success in the paper. Their father died three months ago and he wanted to find Daniel. Henry got a letter from their sister, Annabelle. Henry came from New Mexico. Daniel wants identification.
He puts whisky in milk and forces HW to drink it, then he puts HW to bed. Daniel asks what Henry wants, asking if he has money. Henry doesn’t, but he’d like to stay and work. He worked cable tool rigs, built railroads. Daniel says he’s very competitive and hates most people, while Henry just doesn’t care. Daniel wants to earn enough money to escape from everyone.
He sees the worst in people. He’s built up his hatreds over the years, little by little. Henry’s provided Daniel with a second breath of life. That night, HW sets fire to Henry in his bed. Next day, HW’s sent to a boarding school for the deaf.
HM Tilford greets Daniel and asks after HW, then asks what Daniel’s plans are. Tilford says he and JJ Carter there would like the Coyote Hills lease, offering $150,000 for full title. Daniel says it’s a deal, asking what’s next. Tilford says Daniel has 11,000 acres in Little Boston — one proven well that was damaged.
Daniel says he has three wells proven. Tilford says they could make Daniel a millionaire sitting at that table. Daniel asks what he’d do with himself. Tilford suggests Daniel could look after his son. Daniel says the oilmen should maybe discover the untapped deposits like everyone else.
Daniel asks Tilford if he’s going to change his shipping costs. Tilford says that’s railroad business. Daniel laughs, knowing Tilford owns the railroads. Tilford suggests Daniel build a pipeline or make a deal with Union Oil.
Without shipping, Daniel has an ocean of subterranean oil with nowhere to go. Tilford suggests Daniel spend time with HW. A furious Daniel says he’s gonna cut Tilford’s throat when he’s sleeping one night. Daniel doesn’t like being told about his son. Tilford apologises and Daniel says Tilford will see what Daniel’s capable of.
Daniel approaches Henry at gunpoint asking who Henry really is. Apparently, Henry met Daniel’s brother in King City, then he died of tuberculosis. Henry took his story and used his diary. Daniel soon kills Henry. He finds his brother’s diary and weeps, then drinks heavily.
Daniel meets William Bandy and offers to lease his land. Bandy knows Daniel wants to build a pipeline through his property. Daniel says it’s an eight inch pipe and could be buried with no disruption, with Bandy’s consent.
Bandy says first, Daniel should be washed in the blood of Jesus Christ. Daniel offers Bandy $3,000. Bandy wants Daniel to join their church. Daniel offers $5,000. Bandy wants Daniel baptised.
Eli tells his parishioners the doctrine of universal salvation is a lie. Eli asks if there’s a sinner there. Daniel ultimately walks on stage. Eli says Daniel’s abandoned his child. As the fervour increases, Daniel shouts three times that he’s abandoned his child. Eli slaps Daniel across the face saying out Devil. Eli shouts out sin, slapping Daniel again.
Eli grabs Daniel’s head and asks if he accepts Jesus Christ as his Saviour. Daniel says he does. Bandy pours holy water over Daniel’s head and people sing. Daniel shakes hands with Eli and the congregation calls him Brother Plainview.
Tilford enters a restaurant with associates and greets Daniel. He then loudly greets HW. Daniel says Tilford doesn’t have to shout. Soon after, Daniel puts a napkin over his head and says Standard offered him a million dollars for the Little Boston leases. Instead, Daniel made a deal with Union Oil on the pipeline and the ocean of oil underneath Daniel’s fields. Daniel removes the napkin.
He drunkenly walks over to Tilford’s table and makes it clear Tilford shouldn’t tell Daniel how to raise his family. Daniel made a deal with Union and his son is happy and safe. Daniel says Tilford looks like a fool. He drains a drink from Tilford’s table, then kisses HW’s face.
HW, and interpreter, is beckoned into Daniel’s darkened office. Daniel suggests HW “flap his hands about”. HW says he and wife Mary are leaving for Mexico. HW will do his own drilling and start his own company. Daniel says this makes HW Daniel’s competitor, accusing HW of killing Daniel’s image of HW as his son.
Daniel says HW’s an orphan, asking if HW ever heard that word before. Daniel says HW’s an orphan from a basket in the middle of the desert. Daniel took HW because he needed a sweet face to buy land. HW’s now just a little piece of competition.
Daniel’s awoken from the floor of his bowling alley by his butler. Eli screams that the house is on fire. Eli then blesses Daniel’s beautiful miracle of a house. He’s been evangelising on the radio and offers Daniel a drink. Daniel has his own bottle with him and drinks liberally from it.
Eli says Mr Bandy died at the age of ninety-nine. His grandson, William, is eager to come to Hollywood to be in movies. Eli asks if Daniel would like to have business with the Church of the Third Revelation in developing the lease on young Bandy’s 1,000 acre tract. Daniel says yes, on one condition.
Daniel wants Eli to convincingly denounce his faith. Eli wants a $100,000 signing bonus plus the five that’s owed to him with interest. Daniel says that’s only fair. Eli mumbles that he’s a false prophet and God is a superstition. Daniel encourages a multitude of times a more convincing declaration.
With Eli in tears, Daniel then says those areas have been drilled. Because of drainage, Daniel owns everything around that tract, so Daniel gets what’s underneath it anyway. Eli says he’s in desperate times and needs a friend. Daniel agrees.
Eli admits he’s a sinner. He’s let the Devil grab hold of him. Daniel says it’s because Paul was the chosen brother. Paul told him about the land. Daniel broke and beat Eli. Paul found Daniel to take the oil from the ground. Daniel paid Paul $10,000 cash. Paul has his own, prosperous, company now. Three wells producing $5,000 a week.
Daniel says Eli’s just the afterbirth. Daniel says that land has been had. There’s nothing Eli can do about it. Daniel asks if Eli thought his song and dance and superstition would help him. Daniel declares Daniel’s who the Lord has chosen. Daniel shouts that he’s the Third Revelation.
Eli says they’re brothers. Daniel chases him around throwing bowling balls and pins at Eli, soon taking his life. Daniel’s butler reappears and is told that Daniel’s finished.
Starring Daniel Day Lewis. Paul Dano. Ciarán Hinds. Rated 12A. Dir Paul Thomas Anderson. Released in the UK 2007. Runtime 2hrs 38mins