Film Review: The Master

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix
Genre: Paul Thomas Anderson

The Master set out to be the story of an intense relationship between a troubled returning naval soldier (Freddie Quill – Phoenix) and the leader of The Cause (Lancaster Dodd – Hoffman), a cult bearing a striking resemblance to Scientology in its early days. But instead of being a treatise on salvation, The Master proved to be an exercise in film making.

The Master (film still)
The Master (film still)

Paul Thomas Anderson is a great filmmaker, but he’s not the best storyteller. Magnolia got the best out of Tom Cruise, Adam Sandler was a revelation in Punch-Drunk Love and Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar for his performance in There Will Be Blood. Each film was a piece of art, as carefully put together and as closely examined as the characters they contain.

The Master is no exception. Hoffman is an Anderson favourite and a proven performer but in The Master he reveals talents we didn’t know he had, and it’s not just that he can sing and dance (sort of). There is a full range of emotions on display here from rage to sublime content (you get that with cult leaders).

Phoenix also effectively puts Quill through the wringer, alcoholism and post-traumatic stress infecting his every action and destroying everything he cared for or thought he cared for.

It’s all examined by Anderson in minute detail. Shot on 70mm film it features extreme close-ups, intense dialogue, heavy conversations and a plethora of side plots. No matter how good it looks, at 144 minutes The Master is as much a battle for the audience’s attention as it is a battle for Quill’s soul and sanity.



Rating: Three revelations

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