The Master is the latest film from There Will Be Blood director Paul Thomas Anderson, starring Joaquin Phoenix, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. There has been a lot of buzz around this film, which will likely be a big contender in the 2013 Academy Awards.
The film centers around Freddie Quell (Phoenix), who is a World War II veteran adjusting to life in the states after being abroad in the navy. Freddie suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and is a severe alcoholic, making toxic concoctions of moonshine. He bounces around from job to job, often getting in trouble as a result of his boozing, until he stumbles upon a yacht and passes out. He awakes to find himself in the company of Lancaster Dodds (Hoffman), an educated man who explains to Freddie that he only allowed him to stay on his boat because of Freddie’s moonshine. Freddie joins Dodds and his family as they travel along the East Coast spreading the message of “The Cause,” a philosophy that Dodds has based his work around. During their travels Freddie begins to learn how strong of an influence Dodds has on his followers, as well as the intricacies of “The Cause” such as reincarnation. Freddie becomes a guinea pig for Dodds in his methods, and the two become an odd pairing of friends, despite the worries of Dodd’s wife (Amy Adams.)
The Master is an incredibly weird film, but it is also incredibly captivating. The performances of Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman command your attention throughout the film. The Master marks Phoenix’s first film since his faux retirement/public downward spiral in 2010, and its an admirable return. Phoenix really digs deep into the character of Freddie, whose volatile temper and uncontrollable drinking transform him into a man who is unpredictable, even to himself. The way that Phoenix physically portrays Freddie’s quirks and mannerisms evokes the feeling that he is constantly uncomfortable in his own skin. Phillip Seymour Hoffman excels at playing learned men who have all the answers, no surprise there. Lancaster Dodds is infinitely more composed than Freddie Quell, but it is a lot of fun watching Dodd’s anger boil to the surface when his methods are questioned by both critics and followers. Amy Adams plays a frighteningly serious cult wife, never wavering in her devotion to her husband’s vision.
The problem with The Master can probably be reduced to the issues (or lack thereof) that exist in the religion/philosophy of The Cause. It’s not a secret that the film is loosely based on Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Instead of openly criticizing that religion, P.T. Anderson constructs one of his own; a wise choice that doesn’t seem fully realized. The inherent vagueness of “The Cause” and its lack of concrete goals is probably intended, but those missing pieces make the final product of The Master feel incomplete. Despite the ambiguity of “The Cause,” The Master is an attention grabber for the majority of the film, depicting why we as human beings feel the compelling desire to belong to something larger than ourselves.
Final Grade: ★★★½ 3.5/5 Stars