"There Will Be Blood establishes its central character, Daniel Plainview, as a deviously unscrupulous and manipulative sociopath, a tycoon-crackpot obsessed with oil and money at the expense of everything else, within its opening 40 minutes. Basically, he acts the same way, and does the same (immoral) thing, in scene after scene after scene after scene. Not to be overly lowbrow, but where’s the arc in that? Now, it must be said that Daniel Day-Lewis, channeling the voice of John Huston and the demeanor of Snidely Whiplash, throws a sickly mesmerizing party of one. He has great fun turning up the heat on Daniel’s monstrousness one meticulous Bunsen burner click at a time. Yet if there’s always a kind of suspense about what form his corruption will take, there’s never any doubt that he’s going to lie, and cajole, and dominate over and over again. The result is, on the one hand, a grand didactic parable of capitalism. (Message: It’s ruthless.) It’s also a movie in which there is no essential person to identify with.... When you watch There Will Be Blood, he doesn’t want you, really, to identify with anyone on screen. He wants all your identification reserved for him — for the eye of the storyteller.
[In The Master] Joaquin Phoenix, as Dodd’s drunken, troubled loser of a disciple, certainly turns in a broodingly accomplished piece of disheveled-antihero acting, but the movie invites us to stare at him like a tormented animal at the zoo. We never really grasp the basic issue of why Dodd even bothers with this chump in the first place. Dodd, in the few moments that he reveals his own wasp sting of anger, is shown to be a human being with a passion for control, but the rest of the time he’s got his mask on, and he’s cut off from us too. Why? Because Paul Thomas Anderson now wants to sever our connection with the people on screen, so that nothing gets in the way of our link to the magnetic pull of his directorial voice. It’s a warped vision of what a movie is. But when a director who, in Boogie Nights, made the humanity of his characters sing now insists on making movies as if he’s “the master,” and is hailed for it like he’s the indie-crossover answer to Orson Welles, maybe it’s not necessary for us to love his films. Maybe worship, in its way, feels better than love.” — Owen Gleiberman