Thursday, September 27, 2012
The Master (2012) - Movie Review
Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a World War II veteran that's suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He's an alcoholic, making drinks out of any chemicals he can get his hands on, who's also prone to violent outbursts and cannot hold down a job. One night, he stows away on a boat owned by Lancaster Dodd (Philipp Seymour Hoffman). Dodd takes an interest in Freddie at first because he likes the drinks he can make, but also because he sees something in him, like a stray dog he wants to fix.
Lancaster Dodd is the leader of a movement simply called The Cause. A lot has been made of how this is a movie about, or analogous to, Scientology. While there are some similarities, they never come right out and say it, and it stays fairly vague throughout the movie. As someone not all that familiar with Scientology, I can't really comment on how accurate they are being. Outside of a few lines here and there, I didn't think it was much of an indictment of the belief system shown. The Master is more about following the characters and their relationships.
Freddie wants to get better, so he buys into The Cause and follows them around. He also serves as Dodd's unofficial attack dog, assaulting anyone that challenges Dodd and his beliefs. He even challenges Dodd's own son (Jesse Plemons, who looks like he could actually be the PSH's son), who believes he's making this all up as he goes along. Between his drinking and his use of violence, many members of the The Cause, including Dodd's wife Peggy (Amy Adams), fear and don't trust Freddie, but Dodd wants him there.
Joaquin Phoenix feels like a damaged, rabid dog throughout the film. He transforms physically, looking much older, walking with a hunched-over posture, and speaking in a mumbled voice you can't understand at times. With this way I've described him so far, you probably are wondering if there's anything redeeming about him, but Phoenix gets many chances to show some emotional depth and even a sympathetic side. It really is a brilliantly insane performance, and I'm sure he'll be at the top of the Oscar short list this year.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays "The Master" with more control, and has a charisma that makes it easy to believe that so many people will buy into anything he says. At the same time, you know there's something just beneath the surface waiting to get out. He eventually submits to his own outbursts of anger when challenged. You see that Dodd and Freddie are really just two sides of the same coin, and it felt like that was the real reason why Dodd wanted him around when nobody else did. It's like that master that can't admit his dog is bad and beyond fixing.
The Master is an interesting film, and it's one that you'll be thinking about well after, even if that thought might be, "What the hell did I just watch?" Much like There Will Be Blood, the movie is much more character based than story driven. I hesitate to call it boring, but some of you may think that when watching it. Even I thought there were more than a few times towards then end where I thought it was going to end, but then it kept going for a few more minutes. It does kind of meander in that way. However, it's extremely watchable due to the mesmerizing performances of the cast. Even Amy Adams at times gives off a creepy vibe, as someone that buys into The Cause fully. It's a much smaller role for someone of her stature, and the rest of the cast are mostly bit players. Laura Dern also has a smaller supporting role as one of the followers of the cause.
Paul Thomas Anderson, not to be confused with that Resident Evil hack Paul W.S. Anderson, once again gives us a movie that looks great and has extremely interesting characters. It's a gorgeous looking film and has the look of something that appears it was actually made in the 50's. Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead provides a swirling and eerie soundtrack. It was hard not to notice, and the whole movie I wondered if it was Greenwood, as it reminded me of the similarly eerie soundtrack he did for There Will Be Blood. The look and soundtrack gave this an almost ethereal feeling at times, and I was just meditating watching it. I think P.T. Anderson is one of the five best directors working today. He's able to write such interesting characters that have so much depth to them, and then he gets the performances to match.
I will say The Master also gets points for satisfying something I've had a weird issue with lately. Have you ever noticed that nobody farts in a non-comedy? People fart. It's a normal thing, and you just don't see it that often in movies outside of comedies. The Master delivers on a well placed fart. It's especially bizarre as this happened in the movie just as that thought popped up in my head again. There's also a surprising amount of nudity in the film, and pretty much the last shot of the film is of a woman's naked breasts.
The Master is a worthy follow-up to There Will Be Blood. It has great, Oscar-worthy performances, and is a fantastic looking and sounding film. However, expect that it's not going to be the most entertaining film, and I wouldn't blame you if you thought it was boring or didn't get it. If you can focus on the characters, and not get fixated on where things are going, then you should be able to enjoy it. This is rental for most audiences, but if you want to see something that's going to challenge you a bit, I highly recommend seeing this soon.
4 (out of 5) Death Stars