The Master – Review



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Hoffman and Phoenix set a new standard for amazing performances

With Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, The Master, he travels further into the world of character-driven stories and further away from more plot-driven ones. One can’t help but wonder if Anderson was watching a whole bunch of Terrence Malick films while preparing for this one.

In The Master Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a WWII vet who was been traumatized by his experiences overseas and has taken to coping with his PTSD with copious amounts of moonshine that he makes from whatever he can find laying around from turpentine to photo development chemicals. After a few failed jobs he drunkenly stumbles onto a boat in San Francisco that is setting sail for New York. When he awakens the next day with what appears to be a killer hangover he is introduced to the owner of the boat, Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Dodd has created what can only be described as a religious cult and he pulls the broken frazzled Quell into his family in hopes of “curing” him.

The next two hours of the film follows the strained and intense relationship between these two men, both of whom need the other even if they don’t realize it at first. Quell needs Dodd to straighten him out so he can function in society and Dodd needs Quell to prove his methods work. Behind the scenes is Dodd’s wife, Peggy (Amy Adams), who isn’t always present, but always has a presence, keeping a close eye on their relationship.

The Master is almost two and a half hours long, and being that it is not very plot driven it does get a little slow at times. Still, even at its slowest moments, the performances of Hoffman and Phoenix are so engaging that you hardly notice. Both men easily deliver the best performances of their careers, and the best scenes in the film are the ones that are just the two of them talking to each other. No matter what they are talking about you will be absolutely riveted. Amy Adams also delivers an amazing performance, however it is much more subtle and may be over looked by some.

The other interesting element of this film outside the characters and the performances is the way it looks at cults. Oftentimes Dodd is saying very ridiculous things, but he says them with such conviction and charisma that you can begin to understand how some people could come to believe the nonsense he’s spewing. The parallels between Dodd’s “Course” and Scientology have already been widely discussed. It is an interesting thing to keep in mind while watching the film and it may give those of us who know little about it some interesting insight into it.

The Master is a very intense film and isn’t the best to sit through, but it is an amazing film. I don’t know how much rewatchability value the film will have, but to see this film on the big screen, especially in 70mm if you can find it presented in that scope, is certainly worth your time and money. It’s a gorgeously shot film with two of the best performances of the year.


Director and Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Notable Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams

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