Sunday, December 2, 2012

Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master: An Evocative Journey

Movie Review: The Master

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Reviewed: 25 September 2012

jamesintexas rating--***

"The Master" exists within a class of films that I didn't always fully understand on first viewing.  I will start this review by stating that I must see this film again.

Joaquin Phoenix is Freddie Quell, a sailor adrift after the end of the second world war.  Philip Seymour Hoffman is Lancaster Dodd, a charismatic religious cult leader.  Amy Adams is his wife Margaret Dodd, and she may be the eponymous master, pulling the strings behind the scenes.

Filled with tension, the battle of wills between the two men is complex and confusing.  Director Paul Thomas Anderson, the master himself behind "Boogie Nights," "Magnolia," and the epic "There Will Be Blood," seems to be commenting on the post-World War Two malaise in America, the sense of drift felt by veterans who have returned home from war, perhaps addicts, perhaps damaged.  Phoenix's performance is completely mesmerizing; I simply have never seen him this way before.  He's a jumble of hunched shoulders, marble-mouth speeches, capacity for violence, and obsession.  Hoffman is at least his equal as the charismatic, fatherly Lancaster Dodd, a man who instructs others on a shadowy belief system called "The Process."  Amy Adams does supporting work as Margaret Dodd, the woman behind the man.

I was struck by how nervous this movie made me feel.  I really didn't know where it was going, what could happen from scene to scene, and I think that there is a real focus brought to the work by zeroing in on the two men.  The film tells American history, wrestles with the rise of religious belief, addresses philosophy and the construction of meaning.  Lancaster Dodd tells Freddie, "If you figure out a way to live without a master, any master, be sure to let the rest of us know, for you would be the first in the history of the world."

Those are compelling words and this is a contemplative film, rich in imagery to match the performances.  I hope to see it again soon and amend this review, but for now, let me say that it is rich and evocative and most certainly worth a viewing, though it will disturb and sicken and frustrate.  Paul Thomas Anderson certainly knows how to do all of those things in his films.

(To be continued...)

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