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.
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