I mention all this because it is exactly the skill Daniel Plainview possesses so effortlessly. No matter who he is talking to or what he is talking about, Daniel completely controls the conversation, and always gets what he wants. Now, whether he does this through flattery or intimidation, the fact is that Daniel Plainview is one hell of a salesman.
After oilman Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is visited by the cautious Paul Sunday, who informs Daniel where an ocean of oil lay untapped, Daniel and his son, H.W., trek to California in search of fortune. Soon into their journey, Daniel and H.W. happen upon the Sunday Ranch, where ranch owner, Abel, soon greets them.
“Do you have bread?” a clearly exhausted Daniel asks.
“We have potatoes,” Abel quickly responds.
“Potatoes would be nice, thank you,” Daniel says.
Notice how Abel didn’t offer Daniel potatoes, and Daniel didn’t ask for them. Instead, in a brilliant effort to keep the conversation in his control, Daniel assumes the potatoes are his. It may be easy to view this conversation as insignificant, given that not much is gained beyond camping ground and food. But keep in mind that this is the first time Daniel and Abel ever speak. Daniel owns this conversation from sentence one, and he’ll own every conversation with Abel for the rest of his life.
This brief scene can act as more than a case of superb writing and technical audacity. If studied closely, it could be shown to business students across the country as an effective way to control a conversation. It’s all about the money, right? So here’s how you get it.