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I was fortunate enough to see this film much earlier than most. To me
it seems like Anderson is really hitting his stride with this one. It
was odd to me that upon exiting the theater the thing that I wondered
about most of all is what the hell is he going to do next!
The Master is not an easy movie to sit through, and at times you don't even know what the movie wants. But then you realize that the movie doesn't want anything. All it asks is for you to observe. More so than his earlier films, "The Master" and "There Will Be Blood" really venture into the realm of the film as being a purely cinematic presentation of a life. Anderson doesn't pass judgment or any point of view, he merely stretches the canvas which allows his characters to speak for themselves.
Yes, there is a beginning, middle and an end, but is there? Do we really have a sense of catharsis at the end of "There Will Be Blood"? or do we simply understand "man" a little better?
Anderson insisted, as I'm sure he would say the same for this film, that "There Will Be Blood" wasn't a metaphor for anything. It was what it was. No hidden meaning, no sophisticated and often formulaic subtext. It's simply man. As Hoffman's character says in the trailer for "The Master" - "But above all, I am a man".
The movie deals with an interesting idea of the leader vs. the soldier, master vs. slave. It breaks down the anatomy of a relationship so you may interpret it in any way you'd like.
It's beautifully shot on 65/70mm film which is the way I saw it and the way I recommend for you to see it if you get a chance to. Feels almost as if Anderson is giving the finger to the digital revolution by shooting his film on a resolution so high that digital can only dream of getting there in about ten years or so.
The acting and the dialog is superb as you'd expect. Phoenix and Hoffman are on a different level here, especially Phoenix in a role of a life time. There are definitely times in this film that he completely disappears into that role. There is also some great supporting work from Laura Dern and others.
It would be difficult to place this film in his body of work. More than anything it feels like the natural continuation of what he started with "There Will Be Blood". Not to say that he will continue on this path but just that this is definitely a more narrowly focused film than some of his earlier ensemble work.
I found it to be less engaging than some of his other work and yet there was never a dull moment. You're always on your toes, trying to understand what's going on and where the movie is leading you.
It really is simply, just like man, a fascinating piece of work.
Paul Thomas Anderson has grown as perhaps the greatest American auteur
of his generation. At 42, this is his 6th film (following 1996's "Hard
Eight", 1997's "Boogie Nights", 1999's "Magnolia" - my all-time
favorite -, 2002's "Punch-Drunk Love", and 2007's "There Will Be
Blood"). Like the late master Kubrick and the aging master Terrence
Malick (who, coincidentally, just debuted his 6th film, "To the
Wonder", at the latest Venice Film Festival where PTA won the Silver
Lion for Best Director), he isn't the most prolific of filmmakers; but
his perfectionist creations, cerebral yet strikingly cinematic and
emotional, always leave an indelible mark (polarizing audiences but
usually earning critical acclaim). "The Master" is no exception. Shot
on 70mm film, it is not so much of an "outside" epic as you'd imagine -
although every single image is stunning and perfectly composed
(courtesy of cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr., who replaced Robert
Elswit, Anderson's usual collaborator). It closely resembles "There
Will Be Blood" in tone and content, but it stands on its own (Jonny
Greenwood is once again responsible for the score).
Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a troubled and troubling drifter who becomes the right-hand man of Lancaster Dodd (actor extraordinaire Philip Seymour Hoffman), "the master" of a cult named The Cause in post-WWII America. Their strange, ambiguous relationship is the center of the film. "The Master" is a thought-provoking indictment of cult fanaticism and lies sold as religion, which has caused controversy and concern among Scientologists even before its release. By not mentioning real names, Anderson is capable of broadening the scope of his story and making it richer - and subtler - than a straightforward "Scientology flick" would have been. Like his previous films, there's more than meets the eye at a single viewing, and his attention to detail pays off (there's also a visual homage to Jonathan Demme's "Melvin and Howard", another favorite of Anderson's, in a motorcycle racing scene). Hoffman is as good as ever, and Amy Adams is highly effective (slowly depriving herself of cutesy mannerisms) as his wife. David Lynch's golden girl Laura Dern has a small role as well. But this is Joaquin Phoenix's hour, all the way. River Phoenix's younger brother has become a fascinating actor himself since Gus Van Sant's dark comedy "To Die For" (1995), and, after his much publicized "retirement from acting" and music career hoax in 2009, he managed to come back with a performance for the ages, which shall culminate in Oscar gold. As for Anderson, it is unsure whether the Academy will finally recognize him as he deserves. His films may still be too outlandish for the Academy's taste (he's announced his next project will be an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's crime novel "Inherent Vice", a seemingly less ambitious project he hopes to make in less than five years). Regardless of Oscar numbers, we can rest assured that in a world where PTA gets to make such personal and original work and find his audience, there is still hope, and room, for intelligent filmmaking.
The Master is absolutely magnetic, orchestrated brilliantly by
writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson and helmed by the commanding turns
of Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Anderson has never been a director that makes a film for everyone to enjoy. In the vein of auteur directors like Terrence Malick, David Lynch, and Michael Haneke, Anderson's films aren't necessarily the most accessible despite the seeming mainstream status. Films like Boogie Nights (1997), Magnolia (1999), and There Will Be Blood (2007) are reflective, tensional, studies of human behavior, all things that the average film-goer most of the time will not embrace. In The Master, Anderson constructs, absolutely magnificently I might add, two dynamic, real, and tangible men that the audience can both imagine knowing, loving, and loathe. It's the writing masterpiece of the year.
Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman) gets the best character blueprints of any player to interpret. Hands down, the sharpest and best written character of the film is purely Lancaster. Anderson concentrates on his motivation and responses, giving him an arc that the audience can both easily and willingly travel with him. Hoffman's natural talents as an actor and finding himself in a character are showcased here with intensity and composure. His often seemingly blood-filled hot-headed dialogue encompasses some of the best moments of the film. It's evident Hoffman is not only enjoying himself but enjoying Lancaster. He's both repulsive but completely enamoring in structure, word, and persona. Anderson may have created the great oxymoron of cinema this century. Hoffman is damn-near perfect.
The performance of the year... On the flip side, Joaquin Phoenix not only inhabits a character never seen by him or any actor before but assembles a man from scratch, beat by beat, trait by trait. It's not just the finest acting performance of the year, not only the finest acting performance this millennium, it could be the finest work of the past twenty years or so. I can only recollect a handful of actors that have the gumption to stand toe-to-toe with Phoenix's work here. His Freddie Quell is utterly unpredictable; strutting, glaring, and holding an explosive mentality that could detonate at any moment. Phoenix controls it, even though there are many instances where you feel like he's losing it. Quell is frightening, admitting his evil, unbalance, and instability. Phoenix externalizes this in his zealous and disturbing actions but more importantly internalizes it in body language and character beats that not many actors dedicated to the craft can achieve. Joaquin Phoenix is not just Oscar-worthy, he's Oscar-bound. It's the performance you can't deny, the performance of the year. Let's hope they don't.
Where Phoenix and Hoffman are strident and vociferous, Amy Adams is internal and subtle, but always at the brim. Peggy Dodd is multifaceted and extremely complex. Adams understands her amazingly well, making intricate features that are surprising for "good-girl" Adams. She gets dirty and dominating in not only a prolific manner but in a sultry method. Adams is a revelation. Laura Dern is brief but memorable; a missed actress who should be doing more accessible work.
Jonny Greenwood's score once again, it's absolutely brilliant, well- placed, astonishing and among the best composers this year. Mihai Malaimare, Jr., cinematographer extraordinaire, is just that, extraordinary. Malaimare is painting scenes on a film canvas and we are witnessing the artist work. It's as if we're watching Bob Ross teach us the art of capture. Expect Cinematography to be named among Oscar's lineup in 2013 along with Film Editing (Leslie Jones, Peter McNulty) and Production Design (David Crank and Jack Fisk). It goes without saying, Picture, Director, and Screenplay should be there alongside them.
The Scientology subject is there and there are connections that can be made but are they obvious or intended? Not necessarily. It's not evident or offensive. I only hope that Paul Thomas Anderson and the film doesn't suffer from anyone assuming that its a slight at the group or any particular one for that matter.
Though the film takes time to warm up to, once the film soars, it's soars high. While The Master is not for everyone and there could be many detractors, there are three scenes in particular that are masterpieces in filmmaking. Anderson levels and executes a difficult subject with no fear or hesitation. He also knows his characters, what they are, who they are, and marrying the actors to them in a way not many directors can do. Anderson unites film with art again and The Master is their bond. It's good to see them together again.
In a broad sense, The Master tells the story of a soulless drifter,
Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix,) constantly drunk and with no purpose
in life, finding sanctuary in the company of The Cause, a cult-like
group lead by a charismatic intellectual, Lancaster Dodd (Philip
Seymour Hoffman.) This plot description does not do the film full
justice, because with this film, Anderson fully releases himself from
the constraints of traditional narrative storytelling. The film is told
in a stream-of-consciousness style, loosely linking together vignettes
and moments from the time these two men spend together, without any
sense of "drive," "purpose" or "goal" in the traditional screen writing
sense. It is a style perfectly befitting the emotional and spiritual
state of the main character, Freddie, adrift in life with no anchor or
sense of purpose of his own. Throughout the film, Anderson occasionally
cuts back to a shot of the wake of a slow-moving ship, placing us, the
audience, aimlessly drifting through the narrative, just as Freddie is.
What results is a series of scenes, snapshots of events, some
narratively linked and some not. The film is very subjective, and puts
us squarely in Freddie Quell's mind; as a result, no easy answers are
given, many questions remain mysteries, and we never get a firmly
grounded sense of reality; many events remain ambiguous and keep us
wondering as to their fidelity long after the film is over.
The Master is Anderson's most cinematically humble film yet. Gone are the sweeping camera moves, rapid-fire editing and high style of his previous films; even the slow, meticulous, beautifully lit tracking shots of There Will Be Blood are gone. Instead, Anderson submits to a wholly utilitarian shooting style, only moving the camera when necessary to capture action in the shot, and using formal framing techniques and naturalistic (but still very beautiful) lighting to comment on the characters' internal states. That said, it would be impossible to talk about the film's visual style without commenting on Anderson and cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr.'s decision to shoot on 65mm film. This film stock, especially when projected in 70mm, provides the film with an unprecedented sense of clarity and sharpness. The 65mm lenses provide a very unique and distinctly shallow depth of field that adds to the dream-like quality of the film, and helps emphasize the isolation the characters feel. It would be a crime to watch the film on any other format.
All this discussion about non-narrative elements, thematic overtones and film formats is not to minimize what is possibly the film's crowning and most long-lasting achievement: the performances. Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of the most consistent performers working today and an Anderson regular, delivers another powerful, charismatic performance in line with his turn in Doubt. It is, for the most part, an effectively subtle performance, maintaining a controlled dignity peppered with the occasional outburst. Amy Adams delivers a similarly dignified performance. Her character is mostly quiet, observing from the sidelines, but she has her moments to shine in the aforementioned private scenes between her and Lancaster, in which she completely dominates him. But the highlight of the film is without a doubt Joaquin Phoenix's tremendous performance as Freddie Quell. Over the years, Phoenix has, without much fanfare, slowly but surely cemented himself as one of the best actors working today, with powerful turns in many varied films, from his deliciously villains turn as emperor Commodus in Gladiator to his quiet, grave personification of Johnny Cash in Walk the Line. Now, after a four-year absence from narrative films, he returns with what is undoubtedly a career best performance, and one that, with any luck, will win him a much-deserved Oscar. His utter and complete immersion in the character of Freddie Quell has to be seen to be believed. His back hunched, swinging his arms like an ape, his frame thin, his face twisted and distorted, mumbling and slurring his speech out of the corner of his mouth like he is just learning how to behave in society for the first time, and failing. And Phoenix' physical commitment to the performance doesn't stop there, either: he flings himself into scenes of raw violence that look and feel completely real. It is a crowning achievement in the art of acting and "the method," rivaling that of Daniel Day-Lewis in Anderson's previous film, and it further cements the biggest difference between Anderson and Stanley Kubrick as directors: Where Kubrick is known for his actors' cold, removed performances, Anderson has become the most consistent source for high-caliber Acting with a capital A.
It's hard to really explain what makes The Master work even though it lacks many traditional narrative elements that provide most other films with powerful drama, closure and immediate gratification. It's a very subjective experience, and I'm sure many viewers will have difficulty immersing themselves in the film without the typical sense of narrative progression and character goals. For this reason, The Master is probably Anderson's least accessible film. That said, I think it is a testament to Anderson's enormous intellect and directorial abilities that he managed to capture the attentions and fascination of so many viewers and critics. He certainly won me over; although I had more visceral and immediately satisfying reactions to Anderson's previous films, I find that The Master lingers on long after the lights went up in the theater. The film's intellectual ambitions, along with its very unique, eerie tone, will keep me mulling over the experience for days to come. Already I feel the urge to re-visit it and attempt to uncover more of the film's secrets. And that right there is a telltale sign of an instant classic film in the making.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I love Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and appreciate most of the other recognizable actor s in this film. This film is too long, too boring, and meanders like a mid-western river. I kept waiting and waiting for the story line to pick up, but it was at it's peak on the floor. Amy Adams played a great antagonist, but her role was stunted. Joaquin Pheonix did well to play an alcoholic with a few cards shy of a deck, but hasn't everyone played that role well? Hoffman was not so disappointing as his material was just not that good. This was not a story line worth making into a movie. I wrote a better ending walking out of the movie theater. After the master proclaims we all have our masters, Freddie bashes in his head with a white statuette. The antagonist returns to the room to find the new master in the chair and she smiles. To heap any platitudes on this movie is to become one with the cause. Stay home, save your money, clean your toilets.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw the The Master today and was greatly disappointed & here are some
of my thoughts.
Joaquin Phoenix is probably to old to play the part of a returning seaman from WW2. He's in his med to late 30"s and the vast majority of sailors were in their late teens or early twenties at wars end, little more the kids fighting wars! Also the accounts I've read about navy life state that "odd balls" were weeded out pretty quickly as they had a detrimental effect on morale. Maybe his character had enlisted straight after Pearl Harbour in late 1941 & they were taking 30+ year olds at that desperate time & his mental illness wasn't apparent? Anyway he just appears to old for the part.
The promotion of the film suggests that it's about a cult leader and how he manipulates, after all the film is called The Master. Yet the film is not about Hoffman's character but Phoenix's so maybe it should be titled "A Troubled Mind" the diary of a sick violent alcoholic?
I don't know if we have received a different cut of the film here in Australia but Amy Adams has only a very slight role in the film with only two significant moments. One where she is stimulating Hoffman & another near the end of the film in England. She is grossly under- utilised.
Phoenix's character is painful, watching this performance was what I would think it would be like sitting next to Charles Manson on a flight from Sydney to London. The flights around 22 hours and the film feels like the same time span.
As other reviews have pointed out the story line is, lets say, unclear and drifts. I've always thought Darryl F Zanuck was onto something when he would cut any & all scenes that didn't move the story forward, in this case that's a lot of cut scenes.
I was also annoyed that the Hoffman character was only briefly challenged directly about his teachings. I feel that this was a wasted opportunity to examine a cult behaving under pressure. Instead we only see the reaction of the mentally unwell violent Phoenix character.
What a shame, this could have been an interesting examination of how cults build & work but instead we got an incoherent ramblings from a writer director that in my view has only delivered one film of note.
One last thing, 26 people started watching the film, 8 walked out, 3 fell asleep & from what I could gauge no one enjoyed it. I saw 2 people encouraging the group waiting for the next session to exchange their tickets for anything else.
Often in the history of film there have been remarkable gems, hailed by
few and ignored by the masses. Over time many of these gain the credit
they deserve, Citizen Kane was panned by many critics at the time and
only with the passing of time has its influence and brilliance been
generally acknowledged. P.T. Anderson's new film The Master may not be
Citizen Kane but it is certainly in the same vein. As Orson Welles
modeled Charles Foster Kane after William Randolph Hearst, Anderson's
new film focuses on another controversial historical figure, L. Ron
Hubbard. Like Welles, Anderson treats his characters with the same
mixture of examination and empathy that leaves you questioning pre-
conceptions and wondering what truly defines an individual.
In post-war America Freddie Quell (played by Joaquin Phoenix) , a former soldier with an abnormal libido and a hobby of making near toxic alcohol, is wandering through life like an actor oblivious of his stage. His course takes a slight detour when he wakes up aboard a ship with Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his followers who make up "The Cause", a cult-ish religion clouded in the guise of science, philosophy and psychology. Dodd sees in Quell the opportunity to display the power of his new methods, and in Dodd Quell sees a mentor and hope for answers to the questions that plague all humanity.
Like many of Anderson's films the pace can often be trying and the often surreal visions expounded are certainly not for everyone's taste. Images of swirling water are only a drop in the bucket of metaphors Anderson buries his audience in. Like Anderson's last film, 2007's There Will Be Blood, gorgeous imagery and an eerie score help create a dream-like sense of bewilderment that stays with you long after the lights go up and the popcorn is stale.
Anderson's ability to craft film as art is only matched by his eye for talent. Philip Seymour Hoffman, in his fifth collaboration with Anderson, plays Dodd with wonderful simplicity that allows the complexity of the character speak for itself. With subtly and reserve Hoffman lets his character's egotism and magnetism shine through Anderson's typically biting dialogue. Joaquin Phoenix, still recovering from his 2010 film debacle I'm Still Here, gives a powerhouse performance reminding us all what was so intriguing to begin with. Somehow Phoenix makes a character who should come off as a simpleton violent alcoholic a very empathetic and human individual. In the end he is still not very likable, like many people in this world, but you can nevertheless sympathize with his mortal struggle. Whether or not Phoenix will get the Best Actor Oscar as many have discussed is still anyone's guess, especially with the multi-Oscar winning Daniel Day Lewis (who won his second Oscar for Anderson's There Will Be Blood) in the competition. Rounding out the cast is Office darling Amy Adams as Dodd's wife Peggy, who has a far more pragmatic view of the relationship between Dodd and Quell.
It is a tragedy how often brilliance is not recognized by those in its presence. P.T. Anderson with masterpieces like Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood under his belt would surely be Oscar material, but he is not. After the fall when Spielberg and all the other mainstream directors release their fare Anderson's little art film will receive little attention. He may get a nod with yet another nomination, but the sad truth is that his work may simply be ahead of his time. Just as his films are too "arty" for mainstream box office success the Oscars are too mainstream for him. So maybe he won't get the award until he's thirty years deep like Scorsese or perhaps never at all, but perhaps that's okay. After all he is in good company, there have been other perfectionist film makers who never won the Best Director statue, like Orson Welles.
Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" is a puzzling, often bewildering
film. Very few films have left me shaken and stirred and still leave me
wondering, "What was that all about?" I can't say that I hated the
ride. It is, quite simply, a remarkable film from one of America's best
filmmakers today. This film is not for everyone, however.
The film's center plot; the one about self-described nuclear physicist, philosopher and professor Lancaster Dodd and his "organization" "The Cause" - as seen from the point of view from a shell-shocked psychotic drunk Freddie Quell. During the course of the film Lancaster and Freddie bond somewhat with Lancaster progressing his latest works.
The main performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman are superb, and should warrant both of them Academy Award Nominations for Best Actor. Both of them. Phoenix is literally on fire here, his quirky mannerisms, twitching lips, unforgiving, unsettling eyes and ferocious anger and voice had me on the edge every time I see him on screen. Hoffman also is more subtle, though we see growing anger and rage whenever he feels that his work is being threatened. He can be classy, charismatic, and when threatened, loses all of that and becomes about as desperate as Freddie. Brilliant work by both actors. Watch the scene where Lancaster gets through to Freddie, or the harrowing scene where both of them are in jail cells. Special mention to Amy Adams who, while not really standing out, gives off a peculiar and somewhat sinister aura whenever she's on the screen.
Anderson's solid screenplay and his concentrated direction bring the goods. There seems to be a pattern about Anderson's last three films including this one. Both "Punch-Drunk Love" and "There Will Be Blood" featured lead characters who are extremely lonely and prone to snap to anger. "The Master" is somewhat a bit of both, where the lonely man can be both psychotic without reason and yet there are scenes which show he is, after all, a man. Some very well written lines ("If you can find peace without looking up to a master, any master...") meshed with some really great cinematography by Mihai Malaimare Jr. that brings nice color tones to the 1950 production design. Complementing all of this is Jonny Greenwood's eerie, dissonant score which makes the movie all the more odd, unsettling, and yet compelling to watch.
Eventually, both men in the movie are the masters of their own fate, and Anderson his own. It may move some and it may turn away others, but this is a fascinating watch nonetheless. "The Master" is one of 2012's very best films.
I don't remember when was the last time I got so engrossed in a film that the ending felt like snapping out of a trance. Remarkable in every detail but the detail I appreciate the most is the acting, if one can call it that. Joaquin Phoenix introduced us to a character I had never seen before on the screen. I was compelled, mesmerized. A sensation I hadn't experience since Colin Firth gave us Adrian LeDuc in 1989's "Apartment Zero". A total original but solidly planted in a reality that is undeniable. Shattering. Love him or hate him, he's not asking for sympathy on the contrary. He is defiant. Philip Seymour Hoffman adds another spellbinding character to his already extraordinary collection. And you, Mr. Anderson, who are you? Long Live The Cinema!
Unquestionably P.T. Anderson's best film so far. I've always liked his work, but early on I had no sense he would achieve heights such as this. Let me say this, Anderson, ALONE, I think amongst relatively big-budget American filmmakers, allows his imagery to play by its own rules. EVERY other studio filmmaker- from Scorsese to Tarantino, to Jarmusch, plays by some kind of pre-established rules-even if they are the pre-established rules of "art cinema" or "second cinema". Anderson, like Weerasthakul or Bela Tarr, speaks his own tongue. I thought There Will Be Blood was pretty great, but this is Truly Great- a singularly challenging work of art. Similarly, I would compare Daniel Day-Lewis's work in Blood with Phoenix's work here. The former was impressive, creative, witty. The latter is brave, adventuresome, and merciless. More than any of the "canonical" "method" performances of cinema, I think Phoenix reaches into places of himself, of all of us, that's very unearthing demands new philosophical questions. Here's my take, for what it's worth, of the "meaning" of the film. It's a comparison of two drastically contradictory and complementary personalities. One wants to live without any Master by becoming a Master himself. The other wants a master to give some kind of shape to his life. L. Ron Hubbard- inspired guru Lancaster Dodd (played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman in a performance that's beautiful but not ground-breaking) is a con-man, but as I read him, he's not exactly a charlatan. He truly wants to believe the (self-serving) things he's saying, and he needs other people to believe them too. He's very successful at (least the latter half of) this. But this does not make him free. Instead, it turns him into a kind of King and, as we know from the example of Louis XVI, any sovereign is ultimately a privileged prisoner of his/her subjects. They are exempt from the laws of the land, of life, exactly in so far as others believe they are. Dodd's "freedom" from mastery is wholly dependent on the worship of the other, an other outstandingly represented by Phoenix's Freddie Quell, a potentially unbreakable "scoundrel" who Dodd both fears and admires as such. Quell is a completely, irredeemably, broken individual, whose only surviving qualities are sheer animal instinct- screw, eat, and drink. He yearns to be put back together, to be mastered by some other, to serve some sovereign and thus be welcomed back into civilization. But he's too far gone, or too savage, for that to work. He can't be mastered, even by any coherent sense of self. Dodd seeks the solitude of the sublime but is ultimately made completely dependent on the Other, while Quell, very unwillingly, achieves the freedom, and loneliness, of God.
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