Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a WWII vet with anger management issues. He is obsessed with sex (more than the rest of us) and loves his drink. After numerous altercations, Freddie ends up as a stowaway on the yacht of The Master, Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Dodd is also a hot head who likes his drink and previously had an altercation with Freddie, one that he can't remember, while he can recall past lives. He believes Freddie's familiar face must be from one of them.
Dodd is a cult leader of a movement called "The Cause" which gets it name from the fact that if they used "Scientology" they would get sued. The fact that Hollywood would make what is unmistakably an anti-Scientology film is remarkable in itself.
Freddie is a wild cannon who threatens to derail the movement with his violent tendencies and lust. The Master sees him as a work in progress, one that he must conquer in order to justify his ideas to himself. His family doesn't see it that way. Good acting but the film seemed to be either poorly edited, or written, as the plot lacked proper direction and flow in relationship to the theme...which I am sure it had one if not a dozen of them.
Parental Guide: F-word, sex, masturbation, full frontal nudity. 3 1/2 stars
on 1 May 2013
The mid-range star rating for this film is, for me, a glowing endorsement that it's worth a look. In an age where the inoffensive, forgettable or mediocre will guarantee positive reviews, something that divides opinion has got to be worth a look.
For me, The Master is an incredible film - far, far better all round than the director's previous work, There Will Be Blood. The cinematography is stunning from the first shot to the last and the acting performances are nothing short of extraordinary.
Plus, though the story doesn't necessarily have all the answers, there is no question that you'll be thinking about the meaning long after the final credits. A film that makes you think and debate - got to be a good thing.
That said, I think the overall meaning of The Master is fairly clear - and it's summed up in the final scene.
One thing is for sure - how The Master didn't end up sweeping the Oscars is an injustice. The two leads are nothing short of amazing and Joaquin Phoenix delivers a mesmerising performance. Never mind this year, it is acting worthy of an Oscar in any year in recent memory.
And that quality is (very nearly) matched by every other lead.
Sure, for some, The Master won't be to their taste, which is fine, but I found it worked brilliantly both as a film in its own right and as a work of art.
Film-maker Paul Thomas Anderson’s penchant for protagonists either seeking (or having foisted upon them) redemption can be traced through Mark Wahlberg’s coerced innocent, Dirk Diggler, in Boogie Nights, (a superb) Tom Cruise’s hate-filled misogynist, Frank T J Mackey, in Magnolia and Daniel Day-Lewis’ unswerving megalomaniac, Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. For 2012’s The Master, Anderson turns his attention to the plight of Joaquin Phoenix’s Freddie Quell and the nature of 'cultism’ (specifically scientology), thereby setting up an exploration of the themes of powerplay and coercion in post-WW2 1950s USA and whilst the film (for me, at least) does not quite match up to its pre-release hype (or, indeed, PTA at his absolute best) it still has its moments, particularly in terms of its relatively original subject matter, its look and feel (there are a number of brilliantly cinematic – trademark PTA, if you like – set-pieces), plus some outstanding acting turns. Indeed, with a more focused narrative and perhaps the slimming down of some of the film’s ‘excess fat’ (it runs to around 140 minutes) The Master might just have proved to be the masterpiece it was frequently trailed as.
At the heart of the film is the mercurial ('father-son’) relationship between Philip Seymour Hoffman’s patriarchal, self-righteous cult-leader of ‘The Cause’, Lancaster Dodd, and Joaquin Phoenix’s volatile, sex-obsessed, ex-navy Ordinary Joe, Freddie. Anderson sets up Dodd’s 'extended family’ nicely, with the typically impressive (and, of course, much missed) Seymour Hoffman exuding a calming and magnetic presence over all and sundry (with the notable exception of Christopher Evan Welch’s interloper and sceptic, John More, in one of the film’s standout scenes). Elsewhere, Amy Adams, in particular, also impresses as Dodd’s dutiful wife and 'uncompromising believer’, Peggy. You have to dig quite deep to get to much in the way of empathy of Anderson’s characters here – to some extent a natural consequence of the film’s central, essentially delusional and coercive, premise – but, look closely and, particularly in relation to Phoenix’s oddball, controversial (but brilliant) characterisation and you can find it (cf. the scenes of Freddie with his childhood sweetheart), hidden beneath the surface frustrations (which reveal themselves, in part, here via Freddie and Dodd’s sexual tendencies).
Narrative-wise, the film is probably a little too episodic and meandering. That said, Anderson, who has one of current cinema’s most acute visual senses (and is ably assisted here by cinematographer Mihai Malaimaire Jr.), punctuates the apparent 'lack of action’ with some superb, often exhilarating set-pieces – such as More’s intervention, Dodd’s arrest sequence, Freddie’s desert motorbike and Freddie’s 'return home’. Even in the film’s more sedate moments, we are left in no doubt that Anderson has meticulously crafted every shot. The film’s core theme of psychological, pseudo-scientific (scientology-based) theory is repeatedly evoked, first via Freddie’s navy interviews and thence via the ‘analysis’ he undergoes with members of Dodd’s The Cause. These extended sequences during the film’s third quarter are, for me, too 'theoretical’ and thus are probably the film’s weakest sequences. Throughout, however, Jonny Greenwood’s sparse, alternately ‘classical’ and idiosyncratic score pretty much fits the film’s mood perfectly.
Not an unqualified success, therefore, but a film of laudable, significant ambition, at least partially realised by one of the world’s top film-makers. The other thing to note about The Master is that it is a film whose level of engagement (in contrast to the more 'immediate’ Magnolia and There Will Be Blood) I have found increases with each viewing.
Joaquin Phoenix stars as Freddie Quell who is a World War II vet who has served in the merchant navy too. Whilst on active duty he developed a penchant for making magic hooch type mixes to get through the stress and monotony of war. On his return Stateside it is clear that he has been traumatised by his experiences. He has to attend classes for what is now called `post traumatic stress disorder' or PTSD, and it is all a bit basic, so he leaves.
After a succession of down at heel jobs and increasingly erratic behaviour, he stowaways on board the boat of charismatic cult leader, Philip Seymour-Hoffman playing Lancaster Dodd or `The Master'. He has some loyal followers who believe in his theories of time travel regress therapy. It is not long before Quell falls under the thrall of The Master, but as things develop so do the real basis for the relationship and all, as ever, is not what it seems.
To say any more would indeed be a plot spoiler. This is essentially a character study of two people and the main leads both take their character studies to the enth degree making even Mr Day-Lewis seem a bit tardy by comparison when he wears his false beard. The central performances are quite rightly at the heart of this and it is their performances that make this so engrossing. It is also brilliantly framed in nigh on every shot, with use of interesting camera angles.
Writer and director Paul Thomas-Anderson (`There Will Be Blood' and `Boogie Nights') has made a thought provoking and stylish study of the human spirit. This was Academy nominated, but got a no show. I was bemused by it at first as Quell was a bit unlikable and yet I wanted to see what happened to him. This is also a film about, essentially these two men and so is far from a rollicking adventure. The supporting cast are all top rate too and I could not spot a single dud performance, the attention to period detail is spot on and even at 2 hours and 24 minutes it held my attention through out. It will not be for everybody but I found it almost addictive and is one that you will come back to think about, lovers of Paul Thomas-Anderson's previous work will definitely want to see this.
Very interesting story of two men who need each other. One is the articulate control type, the other a free agent without direction.
Both are addicted to their own cause. Seymour-Hoffman's is up-front bravado whilst Pheonix is the secretive underground chemical stimulator. They blend very well.
If this film has the subtext of Scientology then Scientology is nothing more than words to follow around a charismatic leader. Hollow words. Firm leadership.
I was especially pleased that the free agent wins the day. Using the Cause and then dropping it as he sees right through it and its empty leader. Give a free agent a motorbike and he will just keep going.
Sex. Ignorance. Compliance.
on 18 November 2012
(dir Paul Thomas Anderson/143 mins)
This is a spoiler-free review.
Rarely does a film arrive so wet with critical saliva, though, like marmite, Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master is dark, distinctive and divisive. Some will hail it as genius, some will leave the cinema wishing they'd stayed home and watched Boogie Nights on DVD. Either way it is sure to provoke a reaction. Personally, I loved everything about it (although the same sadly cannot be said for marmite).
Yet, I can't recommend it. I simply can't. I could never confidently look a friend in the eye and assure them that this is worth seeing. I couldn't even tell them what it was about, let alone its genre. There's no `Well, if you liked this film, you'll be sure to like The Master' analogy to be made here because it defies comparison, eludes classification and is like no other film I've ever seen because Anderson makes no attempt to befriend his audience. Such a rebellious approach can be alienating, but it also proves exciting and rewarding as a viewer, because seldom do directors dare to make origami out of the rulebook in such a thrilling way. His narrative is fractured and drifting, as aimless as Freddie Quell (a career best performance from a superbly contorted Joaquin Phoenix). The ever excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Lancaster Dodd, the eponymous and charismatic Master; whose subtle, seamless seduction of Quell and the other members he recruits to his Cause mirrors Anderson's relationship with us as an audience. Arguably, it is he who is the true Master here.
I stumbled out of the cinema feeling much the same way as I do whenever I see a David Lynch picture - almost dizzy, almost drunk, as if I have just woken from a troubled sleep, nursing an intense hangover, unable to quite come to terms with or make sense of what I've just witnessed, still haunted and fascinated by my nightmare. The outside world takes time to come back into focus, slowly bleeding back in as I gradually recover. I'd forgotten all about the existence of human life, forgotten about roads and pavement and traffic. This is very much the sign of a good film, if you ask me. I look forward to revisiting this particular nightmare again on DVD.
Whether or not you'll feel the same is impossible to say...
on 17 April 2016
Not sure what to think at first, definitely takes risks and is slow paced. Philip Seymour Hoffman alone makes this worth the watch and money though, I love how unpredictable he is though, there's definitely a lot of build up because you really don't know what's going to happen next as it's unformulaic. Definitely not everyones cup of tea though, my sister left because she was bored. Some people may not be willing to go through the slow set up. It makes you think about which side to take and is thought provoking, which is always good.
on 12 August 2015
Visually stunning, but not making sense like Magnolia and There will be blood. It seems like an unfinished painting, where you see characters talking, watchin the landscape, moving around with no sense of direction, looking for some sense but maybe living some unspoken thought and feeling that you can get as a viewer. The point is that you do not know if this is a mysterious and obscure film or if it just poses as an author film but has not a density and true essence underneath and inside. It looks like late Malick's films, that are just a justapposition of ideas and beautiful scenes, of silence and weirdness, but they do not know what they are looking for, exactly like their characters. Anyway it is a unique experience
on 16 April 2014
Following Hoffman's demise, I fancied catching up on this rather elusive work. It's a bit difficult to define what didn't work, whether it was the original book or the screenplay or the direction, but somehow neither principal men's characters played by Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix could evince much empathy from me. The story itself was bitty and the message implied in the title was only fleetingly conveyed. On the plus side, a great cast.
It is rare to fear for the life of the leading man (The Machinist being the last example) but Joaquin Phoenix reaches into the very soul of his character - a wrecked ex-sailor with a taste for serious alcohol - and as he gets thinner and more gaunt his resemblance to a death-head increases. He has not only played Johnny Cash, he has become him but with no June Carter. Into this wrecked life comes the admirable Philip Seymour Hoffman becoming (as ever) the cynosure of our attention peddling his brand of rambling regression therapy. Why do these two opposites attract, does either really believe the other, how much of what we see happens and how much is imagined; Paul Thomas Anderson is not the chap to let on, and you'll have to fill in the gaps yourself. In asking this of his audience the director may have gone one step beyond. The film may or may not be about Scientology (the suggestion at least provides some background for gap filling) but it certainly about that generation who came out of the war with some serious addictions and a lot of trauma. If it drifts then it does no more than track them in that drifting.