Director Paul Thomas Anderson possesses the innate ability to take the simplest themes and take you on a wonderful cinematic journey filled with interesting characters.
You only have to look to efforts such as Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood and Magnolia, which features a tour de force performance from Tom Cruise.
All cinematically captivating and simple in their storytelling, yet allowing the viewer to probe, discover and absorb his or her own themes.
The Master is no different.
Thomas, who directs as well as writes, takes a simple construct and uses it as a way to explore other themes. In this case it’s a story of wandering World War II Navy veteran Freddie (welcome back Joaquin Phoenix) who, after returning from the war, can’t find his place other in society. About the only aspect of his life that he has down is his addiction to alcohol and his ability to make magical elixir of varying types for his and the drunken pleasure of others.
He works as a department store photographer, a farm worker and other odd jobs before stumbling on to a yacht that is the temporary home of author and self-help guru Lancaster Dodd (a fascinating Philip Seymour Hoffman). Dodd is a man ahead of his time having figured out how to get people to follow his whacked out teachings while relying on their financial kindness.
Freddie’s strange manner and lost puppy dog sensitivities attract Dodd and they strike up the strangest of friendships based partially on a mental power struggle between the two men. Freddie knows that his would-be benefactor is little more than a con artist, yet he remains enthralled.
Dodd realizes that Freddie is rolling stone incapable of putting down permanent roots, yet he welcomes him into his home, family and life. They’re co-dependent and it’s fascinating to watch their mental machinations play out on the screen.
It helps that Anderson casts two actors up to the task of carrying out the emotional and intellectual heavy lifting needed to help the film succeed.
But it’s Anderson and his compelling character study that completes the process. He gives the audience a complex friendship that allows them to explore his themes. Ultimately, in his rather unpredictable and abrupt ending, he leaves with more than a few things to ponder.
In that respect, The Master is vintage P.T. Anderson, a director with Cleveland roots. His father, Ernie, was local late-night T.V. legend Ghoulardi and eventually left Northeast Ohio to become the voice of the ABC television network. It’s a thought-provoking slice of life that should be seen.
Movie: The Master
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Rated: R (sexual content, graphic nudity and language, smoking)
Running time: 137 minutes
George’s rating: 4-of-5 stars
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com