Review: The Master
(This is a repost of my review published on rhymeetreason.com on September 25th, 2012)
It’s been five years since Paul Thomas Anderson’s critically acclaimed and Academy Award winning drama, There Will Be Blood. As the fall of 2012 and awards season are upon us, we are introduced to The Master, the story of a war veteran returning home uncertain and unsettled about his future — (Weinstein Company).
Like There Will Be Blood, the film moves along at a slow pace with gorgeous cinematography and is driven by Jonny Greenwood’s rousing score accompanied by undoubtedly the best performances we’ve seen this year. To draw more similarities, The Master seems to divide There Will Be Blood‘s oil pioneer Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) – ambitious and brilliant, only to be plagued by murderous tendencies and alcoholism – into Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman) and Freddie Quell (Phoenix).
Joaquin Phoenix makes his return to the big screen after a four year hiatus and wows the viewer within the first five minutes of the film. Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a naval veteran struggling to find his place in society due to his aggressive temper and chronic alcoholism. After we were all convinced that Phoenix was crazy after his long-haired, long-bearded, flat out strange appearance on David Letterman a few years ago, he plays this role all too well.
Philip Seymour Hoffman delivers one of the most staisfying performances of his career as “a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist, a theoretical philosopher, but above all…a man, just like you.” Hoffman plays Lancaster Dodd, the charismatic leader of a movement known as “The Cause,” where followers are instructed to look into past lives and free themselves of emotional pain and struggle (many have drawn similarities between The Cause and The Church of Scientology; and likewise Lancaster Dodd and L. Ron Hubbard).
Rounding out the lead roles is Academy Award nominee Amy Adams who turns in a solid performance as Lancaster Dodd’s wife, Peggy. The lead roles in The Master are nothing short of masterful and they are truly what make the film work.
The film is centered on the connection between Lancaster and Freddie as they form a codependent mentor-protégé relationship – this is where the film really shines. Their relationship is a slow symphony that never quite builds to it’s crescendo, but it never needs to. We see a powerful exchange in a jail cell between Freddie and Lancaster, and a few violent outbursts from Freddie, but Anderson quickly returns us to the slow and methodical pace of the film. Part of the film focuses on Lancaster’s struggles to “cure” Freddie. There is one point in the film where Dodd proclaims to his family, “If we are not helping him, then it is we who have failed him.”
Without getting into too much detail, I will say that upon the first viewing, The Master cannot be easily grasped or understood. Viewers will feel confused and a tad overwhelmed – multiple viewings are definitely suggested – but it never compromises the brilliance of the film.
The Master is not a masterpiece, there isn’t much of a plot – or much of a story – but it is intelligent and ambitious. Driven by outstanding performances and beautiful cinematography, The Master is a striking portrait of humanity’s search for external meaning and the desire to be led, and is most definitely a must see.
[All images are copyright to The Weinstein Company]