Review: The Master

Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson.

Starring: Jaoxuin Phoenix, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Jesse Plemons, Ambyr Childers, Rami Malek.

Rating:   Running Time: 143 mins.

The movie follows Freddie Quell (Jaoxuin Phoenix), a U.S. Navy Seaman who is released from service after the end of World War II. suffering from post-traumatic stress, freddie is extremely sex-obsessed (during a test where he is shown ink blot ‘Rorschach’ test all of his answers are extremely sexual in nature), an extreme alcoholic (we see him mixing his own concoctions including paint thinner), and struggles to fit in everyday society and hold down a regular job.

One day Freddie stows away on a yacht where Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), philosophical writer and founding leader of a group called ‘The Cause’, is celebrating the marriage of his daughter. The next morning Freddie, with no memory of how he got there or the events that occurred the previous night, speaks with Lancaster, who tells him he made a scene as he had drank too much. Lancaster admits that he tried and drank the contents of Freddie’s flask, and that it’s contents inspired him strongly in his writings, and finding him intriguing, invites Freddie to stay with ‘The Cause’.

Having heard about the movie in the press where it has been hailed immensely, I was looking forwards to seeing it. One of the quotes on the poster in particular that stood out was “If there is one movie that will make the blind see and the lame walk, The Master is it.” – a bold statement to stand by, and in all honestly it’s pretty apt. But… when watching the movie, my initial reaction during the opening 20 or so minutes that follow Phoenix’s Freddie as he stumbles drunkenly through everyday life was of genuine surprise. Phoenix was giving a solid performance in the role but not enough that I believed it was worthy of the level of praise being given to the movie.

Then we come to the moment where we meet Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd. Rumours have been thrown around and denied that his character is based on Scientology founder Ron L. Hubbard, which is entirely possible, but is neither important to or has any effect on the movie, as for me Hoffman and what he does with his performance is the crucial pin that holds the movie together. In a word his performance is mesmerising. His first scene with Phoenix where he is introduced to us, you cannot help but find him completely captivating, and then when he goes through his ‘processing’ of Freddie, a method similar to hypnosis that allows him to try and address what drives Freddie’s problems, it’s so engrossing that I almost felt like I had turned to stone, unable to take my eyes off of the screen.

But… unfortunately, after this the movie then descends into the drones of monotony, as scene after scene become a collection of montages as Freddie begins to undergo further processing and travels with ‘The Cause’ and, quite frankly, nothing happens to advance the narrative. This is the movie’s real failing since, narrationally speaking, it doesn’t really have one. As with most of director Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies this focuses on characters and character interaction, but where his other movies have an ongoing theme that usually connects and runs through those scenes that the characters share, The Master is largely devoid of anything to that effect.

This may have been intentional, as the end result of watching the movie is that like the experience of having been in a cult, with the complete absorption into the group as Phoenix and Hoffman share the screen, and then a feeling of realisation that not everything is as great as it’s been made out to be, resulting in an almost shattered world feeling, or at the very least exhausted (especially due to the last 30-45 minutes).

Paul Thomas Anderson has put together a collection of fantastically performed scenes with Phoenix and Hoffman front and centre. It should also be noted that Amy Adams also shines in her scenes as Dodd’s devoted wife, as she holds her own in those scenes, but since we’re not privy to anything of her before she married Dodd, she is historically a little bit of a bland character – not because of her performance, but because of the lack of writing for her part. It’s a shame that there isn’t more to this movie as a whole, it’s filled with great acting, but acting alone is not enough to make a good movie, merely a collection of ideas tied together by the thinnest of strings.

I didn’t hate this as a movie-going experience, but I didn’t particularly like it either. As already said, the performances are engrossing and what make this worth seeing, but if you’re expecting a narrative to form as you’re watching it you’re going to be bitterly disappointed come the movie’s end, and wish you had invested the movie’s lengthy 143 minutes run time in something else. It’s not a bad movie because… it’s not really a movie, and that’s the best way I think I can put across exactly how this left me feeling.

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Posted on November 18, 2012, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. This was released back in September and at the time there was talk of many Oscar nominations including Best Picture. That’s still a ;possibility, but that talk has lessened considerably in the last two months. I’m surprised we had such similar reactions. Great review.

    P.S. Paul Thomas Anderson has admitted in interviews that that Hoffman’s character is indeed based on L. Ron Hubbard.

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