The Master is a dramatic character piece set in post-World War II America, starring Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote, Ides of March) and Amy Adams (Enchanted, The Fighter). It was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, There Will Be Blood).
Freddie Quell (Phoenix) lives a self-destructive, purposeless life after returning from his Naval service. Unable to rejoin society after the horrors of war, he keeps himself in a near constant alcoholic stupor until one night he stumbles into the life of Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), a charismatic cult leader with a small but growing following, inspired at least in part by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. The film is an exploration of belief, power, control, and the relationship between purpose and free will, set within and around the complicated relationship formed between Dodd, his wife (Adams), and Quell.
There simply will not be a better performance this year than Phoenix as Freddie Quell. It has to be seen to be believed.
If there is a performance this year that comes close to Phoenix’s portrayal of Quell, it’s Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd.
The performances are the towering achievements that they are due to fully developed characters in Anderson’s script and his assured, patient direction.
The photography from relative new-comer Mihai Malaimare Jr is stunning.
Johnny Greenwood’s soundtrack provides a subtextual edge to every scene. It is at once beautiful, ethereal, and terrifying.
Some may accuse Anderson of pretentious navel gazing. They’d be wrong, but they still may level that charge.
You’ll like this movie if you:
*Enjoy being challenged when you visit the cinema.
*Are familiar with deep internal suffering and appreciate honest portrayals of broken people and broken relationships.
*Love Terrance Malick’s films.
*Understand what it means for a film to be more of a portrait than a story, and love that kind of thing.
You’ll hate this movie if you:
*Only ever go to the theater to escape and be entertained.
*Don’t like movies that require several days afterwards to fully process.
*Are prone to describe movies as ‘boring’ because they are mainly filled with people talking and not really ‘doing’ anything.
*Roll your eyes when someone says a particular film is more of a portrait than a story.
The Bottom Line:
The Master will be loved by some, appreciated by several, and hated by many. The reasons for hating the film will mostly be due to a preference for strong, event-driven narratives, and/or films that resolve most of the questions they raise, neither of which is The Master an example. The Master is, however, a powerful portrait of two broken and desperate men: one honest about his condition, the other concealing it behind a facade of charisma and false promises. These are not men you enjoy being in the presence of, but they are men portrayed with such truth that there is insight into the human condition to be gained. That truth is found in the unraveling of the layers of subtext found in Anderson’s deft weaving together of honest and authentic moments. For audiences with the interest, attentiveness and patience to really consider those moments and their meaning, there is much of value to be gained. The Master is rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, and language.