Review of The Master

Directed By: Paul Thomas Anderson

Written By: Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams


There are directors who use the format of film to make quality products of entertainment that we can easily get behind and enjoy. Then there are those directors who manipulate the barriers of film to invoke certain themes and concepts that go beyond a simple narrative.  Paul Thomas Anderson is certainly the type of director that rejects any notion or idea that his movies must conform to any set standard.  His latest film The Master may be his most ambitious yet as it examines its subject matter with an unrelenting abrasive attitude.  Though the impassive design can you leave you feeling cold due to an inability to get invested into its process. Even if you are unable to become a personal participant into the story of The Master it is impossible not to marvel at the technical skill that is on display

The story of the film centers on the relationship of World War II Navy veteran Freddie Quell and Lancaster Dodd, the leader of the movement known as The Cause. Joaquin Phoenix plays Freed Quell perfectly as an anxious and unrelenting ball of emotions. Freddie is like a seven year old wearing his itchy Easter Sunday suit, always fidgeting and never being able to feel at ease.  He is always at a stage of controlled chaos just waiting for an excuse to implode. Much of his behavior is erratic and he acts without any type of focus. After the War ended he attempts to reenter the world he never really fit into to begin with. After a few failed attempts he stows away on a random vessel just looking for escape. The captain of the ship, who has ship captain as one small part of his luxurious resume, happens to be Lancaster Dodd.  Instead of kicking Freddie off the boat he offers him a job. Lancaster sees something in Freddie that Freddie doesn’t even seem himself.

Lancaster Dodd is played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman who plays the character effortlessly. By now we know the prodigious actor that Hoffman is and this is just further evidence of that fact. He plays the character with this spellbinding bravado that begs you to follow. His calm demeanor will bring you in to make his outbursts sudden and frightening. Lancaster is the leader of the group who calls themselves The Cause. Abundant speculation has gone into determining who this group is meant to represent. Many argue it is a representation of Scientology, but it’s not overtly stated. This cult’s main focus is removing emotion and examining the connection of our past lives. Lancaster believes he can cure the mystery that has been haunting Freddie, and bring him a form a peace. Other members aren’t as certain and sense that Freddie’s unhinged behavior could lead to their downfall. One particular outspoken member is Lancaster’s wife Peggy Dodd played by Amy Adams. Considerable praise will go towards the performances of Hoffman and Phoenix and deservingly so, but Amy Adams should not be overlooked. She is far more understated due to her unyielding control, but she uses that control to stay above the pressures around her. You know she is without fear, but she is muted with her furious anger. Her wrath is forceful and focused towards anyone who would challenge her lifestyle, and she views Freddie as one of those challengers. With a character so well written you need someone like Amy Adams because she has the ability to conjure the passion needed to allow the character to work.

Definitely the focus of the film is the colliding of the distorted force of Lancaster and Freddie. Both are compelled towards one another in a naturalistic need to confront the others ideals as well as their own. When you have a director like Paul Thomas Anderson you have someone who knows when his hand should be absent so we have moments when complete focus can be on these two amazing actors. Though the characters are gripping they are not people who will necessarily draw you in. Having two rather unlikeable characters does provide a obstacle to become personally involved in their outcome. You can appreciate the effort being put forth but the limited internal impression is hallowed. Anderson is the type of director that uses every facet of his film to articulate his message. He is like the ultimate clock maker making sure every gear, no matter how small, is used to its fullest potential. The complex figuring and design requires a master hand to corroborate each gear so it is placed correctly to guarantee its fullest potential.  The commanding score from Jonny Greenwood and the breathtaking cinematography from Mihai Malaimare Jr. gave him a lot of tools to work with.

One motif that reoccurs throughout is Anderson’s desire to take away the comfort we have come to anticipate in film. He will remove the beauty and glamor that is normally associated with sexuality and make it awkward and messy. This deconstruction is slow and efficient making it far more striking. When everything is in shambles it lingers in the moment in order to prod you to the point of complacency. Again and again Anderson will carve a wound open and just when it is about to mend he will scratch it once more to make the pain extra severe. Sexuality, faith, and post-traumatic are just a few topics are scrutinized in that manner.

The Master does have some inherent complications. It’s like an abstract painting with a limited narrative. Some can see its openness and lack of a distinct structure as a method to exercise one’s mind where we can input a never ending assortment of conclusions and thoughts. Others can look at it as an inability to be coherent, and believe that anyone who refuses to see its failure doesso based on their own pertinacious need for it to have a significant meaning. Similar to the classic Emperor’s New Clothes fable we could be placing that luxurious garment upon the film simply based on internal distress, or are the ideals placed upon genuine? That’s a legitimate question that does not have an absolute answer, but in a way creating something that generates this type of logical debate is to be respected. Even though arriving at an exact conclusion is murky there were moments that begged to be admired. Watching how this cult takes hold of someone was a reawakening of the power of the mind and manipulation. For those who may not walk away completely satisfied with The Master still will have to admit there are certain sequences that are the epitome of proper filmmaking.  If you are able and willing to fall in line with The Master’s message you can appreciate it on a higher level. It will grind you like a physical workout. The effects last long after the film is over. Certain sequences and images will haunt you, but it’s a haunting you welcome.

Final Rating:

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Dan Clark

A fan of all things comics, movies, books, and whatever else I can find that pass the time. Twitter: @DXO_Dan Instagram: Comic_concierge

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