Review: The Master
What We ThoughtGenre: Drama
What We Liked :Career best performance from Joaquin Phoenix, Hoffman just as impressive Johnny Greenwood's fantastic score
What We Disliked:Story holds little significance in success of the film
The Master has incredible performances and score, but never merges the story into the picture.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson has had several home-runs when it comes to achievements in cinema. Each of his films (specifically, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood) feature career best performances from his actors and in this particular case, The Master rises to the occasion; unfortunately, where it fails is how disjointed the film feels. Paul Thomas Anderson has proven before that he is capable of a compelling narrative in conjunction with story, but The Master never merges the two successfully.
Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) has just returned from a stint of duty in World War II. Surviving the war has done a number on his psyche. Not only does it leave him with an insatiable thirst for sex, but there’s never a moment when he isn’t boozing. After drifting from one place to another, he randomly decides to sneak onto a boat.
What Freddie doesn’t know is that the boat is in the possession of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who describes himself as “many things, including a writer, doctor, a nuclear physicist, and a theoretical philosopher.” Dodd is at the forefront of discovering a new form of spirituality, that has a seemingly cult-ish following. Freddie, being mentally disturbed on many levels, becomes the perfect guinea pig for Dodd to experiment upon and they both get what they need as Freddie feels compelled to follow a master.
As to be expected from a Paul Thomas Anderson picture, the performances in this film are on another level. It has been a long time since Joaquin Phoenix has been in pictures, but this is wonderful return to the big screen. Like Daniel Day Lewis’ character in There Will Be Blood, Freddie Quell feels larger than life at times but can be adequately described as a loose cannon. After his first outbreak, there’s always a lingering fear that he might go off again. Phoenix keeps his same facial demeanor throughout the picture and exemplifies the mental illness plaguing Freddie. On the other side of the coin, Philip Seymour Hoffman holds his own as the Master, Lancaster Dodd. There seems to be a blind ambition within Dodd’s character, that even though he may not fully believe the words he’s written, he will convince others that his word is scripture. It would seem that some of that ambition comes from his wife, Peggy Dodd (Amy Adams), but he is still a man true to his convictions. While Amy Adams does a fine job here, the movie really succeeds on the performances of Phoenix and Hoffman.
Some other familiar collaborators returned from other Paul Thomas Anderson movies to work on The Master, most notably, Johnny Greenwood (Radiohead). He comes equipped with another haunting soundtrack. While minimalist at some points, there are scenes where the music completely dictates the feeling of uneasiness. Also of note, Anderson decided to shoot The Master on 70mm. The film is only playing on 35mm in this area, but if it’s playing in 70mm its worth checking out.
More so than any other of his films, Anderson’s The Master relies solely on the characters to be the fuel for his story. While there are moments of unease and high tension, the story is more of a platform in which Hoffman and Phoenix show their talent, and although there will be accolades for their performances, The Master will fail to raise the bar from its superior predecessors.