Sunday, December 2, 2012

Movie with Abe: The Master

The Master
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Released September 14, 2012

I managed to catch this early fall Oscar contender on the final day of its theatrical run in Los Angeles. Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film is best compared to his previous production, “There Will Be Blood,” which spotlights two lead characters and hones in on their true natures, a departure from earlier ensemble pieces like “Magnolia.” In an original story with plenty of similarities to the rise of Scientology, Anderson concocts a disturbing, compelling movie about a lost soul hypnotized by the attraction of an explanation of life by an acclaimed author and his devoted followers.

“The Master” refers to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd, the creator of The Cause, a movement that stresses the eternity of life and the relevance of past experiences. Hoffman, as always, is excellent, commanding the screen with a passionate performance that reveals his character’s deep belief in the importance of being revered. Yet the film is more notable for the career comeback of Joaquin Phoenix, in his first narrative film role since “Two Lovers” in 2008 and his subsequent descent into peculiar behavior. Phoenix’s part is perfect for his transition back to respected actor status, playing Freddie Quell, a profoundly unwell Navy veteran drawn to The Cause and its eccentric leader purely because he has no belief system and nothing to tether him to reality. His is an unnerving portrayal of a broken man not in control of his emotions or his actions or emotions, easily riled up and just as easily manipulated.

Anderson teams once again with composer Jonny Greenwood to create an eerie feel within moments of the film’s opening, positing Freddie as an unstable force whose fate is out of his hands. By contrast, the introduction of The Master is far more casual, first shown dancing joyfully on a boat and next complimenting an alcoholic drink Freddie has a concocted. It’s the gradual unveiling of the true nature of The Cause that makes “The Master” so effective, showcased by the loyalty and admiration expressed by its adherents and Freddie’s willingness to be swept along by it. The film is artfully directed with memorable colors and cinematography, grounding its story in its 1950 setting. Hoffman and Phoenix play superbly off one another, and Amy Adams gives an unsettling performance as The Master’s wife, just as eager to control things as he is. “The Master” is far more fulfilling than the equally intriguing “There Will Be Blood,” clocking in at well over two hours but never losing focus.


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