Published on July 23rd, 2013 | by Allan Brown2
The Master Review
Movie Review: The Master Review (2012)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams
Plot: Troubled Naval veteran Freddy Quell returns home from WWII tense and uncertain of his future. Ruled by alcoholism and a feral lifestyle, Freddie’s chance meeting with Cult leader Lancaster Dodd offers him an opportunity to change.
With only six feature length films under his belt Director Paul Thomas Anderson is fast becoming what critics call an Auteur, a term used to describe a director who possesses not only a distinct style, but also a challenging one.
Throughout his career PTA has proven himself a bold, courageous and often fearless director, not scared of tackling projects that are deemed to risqué for the casual audience (Boogie Nights – trailer here) or too slow paced and un-cool for a market that demands explosive action, CGI and superheroes. The style and influences in his films are clear and often echo that of a bygone era, bringing a sense of romanticism to the visuals but opposing them with darker tones in the characters he chooses to explore (There will be blood-trailer here) His films also frequently raise debate on symbolism and hidden meaning, however If there’s anything of the auteur with Anderson, he modestly regards it as accidental, stating that “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”
In 2007 “There will be Blood” was released to a rapturous reception from both critics and the public alike. The film garnered eight Oscar nominations (including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay) eventually winning two, including Best Actor for Daniel Day-Lewis. Since then we have been made to wait patiently to see what the director would turn his attention to next. So when in 2011 it was announced that PTA’s next project would be a story loosely based on the birth of Scientology we all gasped with poised excitement and intrigue.
The hype around The Master has been huge as predicted. However with a project shrouded in such mystery and speculation regarding just what exactly it is about and whether the supposed allusions of Scientology are examined or explored at all remained unclear. Now that the film is out the rumours and speculation have transposed into discussion and interpretation.
So has PTA done it again with “The Master” a story inspired by L. Ron Howard the founder of Scientology?
In part, both yes and no.
The Story follows Freddy, a World War II veteran struggling to fit back into society with no clear path to follow in life. He spends most of his time going from pillar to post, trying to find himself, but not being able to overcome his violent tendencies and alcoholism. Things change drastically when Freddy meets Lancaster Dodd, a charismatic man who has gathered a following to promote what he calls “The Cause”. Freddy quickly begins to embrace what Dodd has to offer him, and a relationship develops between Freddy and Dodd, a relationship that will affect both of their lives forever.
The movie ultimately deals with the idea of the leader vs. the soldier, master vs. Slave. These themes and ideas are explored throughout the film and break down the structure of a relationship which remain open for interpretation. Does Freddy (Phoenix) represent Dodd’s (Hoffman) alter-ego, two persona’s within the same character? Freddy symbolizing the primal, animalistic traits, something that Dodd knows he has to distance himself from in order to fulfil his prophecy or is Freddy simply the Yin to Dodd’s Yang, something that fascinates Dodd?
The Master is beautifully shot and its subtle tones and palate along with its score serve the film immensely. The cast all turn in performances that are undoubtedly Oscar winning. Both Phoenix and Hoffman play off one another wonderfully and their scenes together are the highlights of the movie. Amy Adams also does extremely well as the film’s antagonist in the supporting role. However there are some issues. Freddy as the central character of the story is a person most will find hard to empathise with. His rootless nature both selfish and primal makes it hard to feel sympathetic towards him or his plight. Hoffman on the other hand is a charismatic, charming character and a devoted family man who is a joy to watch lighting the screen up any time he is present. Again both characters, Yin and Yang.
With that said The Master is not an easy watch and will undoubtedly split its audience. At times it seems to lack any momentum or direction of where its taking you, if anywhere. All the Film seems to ask is for you to observe. The Master is ultimately a character drama and a cinematic presentation of life. No judgement, points of view or subject matter is explored with any real depth, which will no doubt be a little too opaque for some. Instead the characters are given the full canvas of the film to grow, or not as the case may be.
Summary: Beautifully shot, scored and magnificently acted The Master soars in style, and technique but is ultimately let down by its meandering slow pace and lack of any real plot or substance. Like marmite, some will love it whilst others will be looking to get the last 2hrs 24mins of their life back.