The Master has already been building up a lot of Oscar buzz—and decidedly so, much of film is astounding. The film combines tour de force performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix (even Amy Adams manages to hold her own) with beautiful cinematography by Mihai Malaimare Jr. set to a magnificent score by Jonny Greenwood; yet, with all these elements, is The Master really the best film of the year (as some film critics have already praised it)?
Set in a post-World War II America, the film follows war veteran Freddie Quell (played by Phoenix who delivers each line from the side of his mouth in the same fashion that Katie Holmes did in Dawson’s Creek) who medicates his PTSD with alcoholism (via a paint thinner concoction he makes that proves useful for making friends and killing the elderly). In a drunken stupor he stumbles upon Lancaster Dodd’s (Hoffman) boat as his family and friends celebrate his daughter’s wedding. Fortunately, Dodd finds Freddie fascinating and quickly inducts him into his cult called The Cause (which draws comparisons to Scientology despite filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson’s denials). Despite being a fiercely loyal follower, Freddie indulges in far too much promiscuous sex and drinking to ever fully convert to The Cause, making for much grumbling amongst those closest to Dodd.
Clocking in at 2.5 hours, the film is bound to have some missteps. Paul Thomas Anderson acts as both writer and director, but it seems he could’ve used some extra direction in his writing. Some tightening of the story in the midsection would keep viewers more engaged and appreciative of Anderson’s ambivalent ending that is ripe for interpretation. Amy Adams, too, would’ve benefited from an expanded role. Her manipulative Mary Sue Dodd, wife of Lancaster, doesn’t show her true colors until later in the film, making for some disturbingly frightening scenes; but a few more scenes between her and Freddie and her and Dodd would’ve all but solidified her win as Best Supporting Actress come awards season (I still expect her to rack up the nominations, though). Also, while Greenwood’s score is beautifully tragic, it often feels disjointed from the film; or maybe that’s purely because Malaimare Jr.’s cinematography is so perfect that it could stand alone without a score.
Despite these mishaps, however, The Master is a thought-provoking work of art. Viewers will find much to fascinate them and keep them talking about the film long after they’ve seen it. The film also teaches some very important lessons like drinking paint thinner is dangerous, don’t join cults and women can look deeply unattractive when naked.
- ‘The Master’ Review: Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inquisitive, Maddening Vision of Power and Friendship (slashfilm.com)
- Movie Review: The Master (moviefail.com)
- Follow the leader > Paul Thomas Anderson paints evocative portrait of two contrasting men in post-WWII America. (newsreview.com)