Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Now, how do I, a man that has been terribly excited to see Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master for quite a long time, convince you that my fanboy enthusiasm doesn’t in some way cloud up trying to write an objective review? Well, I don’t know if I’ll be able to fully convince you, given the rating that I just gave The Master, but give me a chance will you? First, let’s get the fanboy stuff out of the way first shall we? I am a huge fan of P.T. Anderson’s. Magnolia for me, sits on the top of the list. But the plus or minus factors between all of his movies is so tiny that at any moment, any one of his other films could take the top of the mountain. Watching the progression of his career that has led us to today, a man who is absolutely fearless about what he puts out there for us to see making him easily one of the best directors working right now. And with The Master, his sixth film in a career that is closely reaching the 20 year mark, he has made a movie that from a first look doesn’t have the visceral excitement of There Will Be Blood, but its more deceptive calm demeanor is its biggest weapon.
The Master is all about playing with what is real and what is manipulation. Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a myriad of personalities. He’s the equivalent of an Army grunt who at the beginning of the movie is riding out the last few moment of his career in the Navy. Is Freddie a lost soul just looking for a connection in this world, or is he just a simpleton with anger issues who only cares about sex and mixing up potent and lethal batches of liquor using anything from paint thinner to gasoline? Freddie wanders, post Navy, from job to job until one drunken night he stumbles upon a boat and a party being hosted by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
Lancaster is many things, a Doctor, a writer, a philosopher, a nuclear physicist and the leader of a burgeoning cult like group called The Cause. Lancaster sees something in Freddie and takes him under his wing. But does he really care or is this part of the game of recruitment for the Cause? Freddie on the outside looks like the perfect candidate, a man looking for something to hang his hat on. Or is this just a pit stop in the ever wandering life of a man who is only concern is to bleed something dry until it is of no use to him anymore and then quietly, or not so quietly, moves on?
Lancaster is married to Peggy Dodd (Amy Adams) who doesn’t care for Freddie and feel his antics will ultimately destroy the Cause. Peggy is the one character in the movie that you get the sense that she truly believes in what she is selling. She may be the one lost soul who found her connection through Lancaster and the Cause. But behind her simple and pleasant demeanor lies something more sinister.
To say that the acting in The Master is first rate is an understatement. To sell the twisted tale of what is real and what is manipulation isn’t the easiest thing to do and all the principles: Hoffman, Phoenix and Adams turn in performances that are nothing short of stellar.
My only gripe with The Master is I wish more time would’ve been spent with Peggy. Like I mentioned before, there is a sinister underbelly sitting with her and adding a few more scenes to really flesh that out could’ve really elevated her character above Lancaster or even Freddie. But this is a movie about a student and his Master, or maybe it’s about the game each one is playing to get what they want? That’s for you to decide.
I won’t lie; The Master is going to frustrate some people because there is so much left up for interpretation. But if you give it a chance, that’s the fun in the whole experience. And if for nothing else, go see it because of the acting. I don’t know if you’ll see a finer trio of performances all in the same movie this year. The Master may not end up being the best movie I see this year, but it’ll definitely end up in the top 3. And that isn’t the fanboy talking, trust me.