The Master, is no doubt another Oscar bait film from director Paul Thomas Anderson. He manages to once again create a film with interesting leads, strong direction, and solid dialogue. But he never seems to be one who cares much for story and once again I feel this film has a lot of pros and cons most of his films have. Despite some flaws he still manages to create a gripping and entertaining film that will pull you in from the beginning. Expect to scratch your head, go “WTF?”, be shocked, confused, and even have your jaw drop a little with the raw emotion these actors put on screen.
The “story” or should I say plot is quite simple for the most part. It’s mostly about Joaquin Phoenix’s character named Freddie. Freddie is from the Navy and just returned from WWII suffering post traumatic stress disorder (it’s never spelled out for the audience but it’s obvious) along with others suffering just like him. To put it in simple terms, it’s clear this guy is for lack of a better term, “Crazy.” Half of the thrill of this film is finding out just how crazy this guy can get, so I refuse to give anything away. The trailers do a great job of hiding a lot. You never really know for sure how he got the way he is but the film gives you a lot of hints to piece together what makes him tick. This film doesn’t hold your hand and I respect it for that.
Freddie (Phoenix) eventually meets Phillips Seymour Hoffman’s character Lancaster Dodd(God?) aboard his ship where he likes to write and clear his mind with his “extended family” due to a strange series of events. Dodd is the creator of this new religion that he believes can cure Freddie’s mental illness. Dodd is just as an interesting character as Freddie and they form an interesting relationship throughout the film. I feel like Dodd and Freddie’s characters share a similar soul and that is why they connect. I also feel that they are both completely insane but just in very different ways. In fact I don’t think there are many sane people in this film. No doubt showing how becoming obsessed with a religion can change or shape a person.
The thing that struck me most about this film was the performances. Joaquin Phoenix brought his absolute A game here and shined the most in this movie. I make jokes that he’s just playing him self cause he’s acting as a nutty character but he really steps into someone else’s shoes and becomes someone else in this role. Every single thing he does is Freddie, not Joaquin Phoenix. His bizarre body language and his nervous tics really stood out and he made the character his own. Also without giving too much away when this guy flips out expect to be floored. This guy really looses it sometimes. All I got to say is, Prison scene= brilliance. His acting was so phenomenal he deserves his own paragraph and an Oscar.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman does a fantastic job as well and is just as interesting as Phoenix. The man constantly proves that he can get into a role and transform into someone else entirely time and time again. His role as Dodd for the most part is very calm and collected on the outside but you find out there’s just as much hidden anger inside of him as Phoenix’s character. He just hides it a hell lot better. Both of these leading roles are unpredictable and it made them thrilling to watch on screen. A few supporting roles like Amy Adams do well but it’s nothing to ride home about because their roles are so small in comparison.
The Cinematography and music deserve high praise to boot. Shot in 70mm the clarity of the picture is pristine and the film has a gorgeous warm tone to it. The camera work is best when it isn’t standing still and that’s a lot of the time. There are a lot of long takes and the camera flawlessly follows these characters in a grand fashion. The way they have the camera moving around the set is well done but it’s not anything you haven’t saw done before.
The music by Johnny Greenwood is great too. It ranges from a catchy and funky sound to some emotional score. A lot of the music you wouldn’t expect to fit for what’s going on screen but somehow it just works. I honestly can’t explain how, but it does. A great score overall and one of my favorites things about this movie. I love good music and sound(sound effects are excellent) and this film doesn’t falter in those regards.
Now on to what I didn’t like….Some of the religion aspects to me were incredibly bizarre but that’s sort of the point. I honestly wish the religion that Dodd was creating was touched upon more because it sounded so interesting in such a ridiculous and bizarre way and I like ridiculous and bizarre things. Also some of Dodds methods that he was using to help Freddie are rarely touched upon or ever explained. Without giving anything away some moments you will honestly think either “How could this possibly help anyone?” or “What is the point of even doing this?”. It’s never explained and there is just some weird moments with no real context. In the beginning when Dodd is trying to help Freddie in some of the earlier methods, they do make sense but the deeper Freddie gets in, the weirder it becomes. It’s quite the cult Dodd has going on here.
Also one thing that really irks me is the obvious lack of character development. Every character is basically static throughout the entire film with no real or at least obvious change. There is also no real solid conclusion. Some of you will watch this film, enjoy it then at the end question what the hell was the point of it all? It’s mostly a character study and it’s up to you to try and figure out what makes them tick. But I felt disappointed with the ending and would have hoped for a little more. There are some time gaps between scenes that will make you scratch your head and leave you wondering did Paul Thomas Anderson have no idea how to bridge the gap between these scenes so he just left it out of the script? There one or two parts that if you don’t pay attention for a second you’ll be left in the cold because of these random gaps in time. I didn’t enjoy the ending and by the end I couldn’t help but think “What’s the point?”
It’s a gripping and well made film with stellar performances. It has some flaws like lacking much of a story, plot points that are never made clear and an unsatisfying conclusion. Fortunately for this film it’s brilliantly done in every other aspect. Overall, 7.5/10