The Master (2012)
The Master (2012)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 17 min.

Release Date: September 21st, 2012 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson Actors: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Ambyr Childers, Rami Malek, Laura Dern, Katie Boland

 


 

“T

he Master” offers two fascinating performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman. But that’s about it. As interesting as the lead characters may be, they’re adrift in an aimless story where attempting to find meaning is both futile and fruitless. Director Paul Thomas Anderson crafts intriguing subjects but only allows the audience to observe them. We witness their actions but learn little of what truly drives them. We’re introduced to a sampling of their beliefs but never what they hope to accomplish. It’s difficult to connect, empathize or even understand any of the film’s characters, and by the time the end credits roll, most may not care to ponder the point of it all.

After returning home from World War II, naval veteran Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) discovers he’s unable to adjust to civilian life. Failing as a photographer for a department store and then as a field worker, Freddie finds himself stowing away aboard a cruise ship captained by controversial religious leader, doctor, and author Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Captivated by “the master” and his charismatic demonstrations, the troubled sailor accompanies Dodd and his growing group of followers to New York and Philadelphia where they work to spread knowledge of his teachings. As Dodd attempts to enlighten and recondition his newfound friend, Freddie must determine his own level of commitment to the cause while struggling to control his irascible temperament and the surmounting regrets in his life.

While it’s a technically proficient work, with emotive, screeching violins reminiscent of “There Will Be Blood,” bookended shots of cathartic peacefulness, repetitious yet artsy framing of metaphorical scenery, skewed viewpoints realized through striking visuals (many times involving graphic nudity), and dream sequences paired with flashbacks to tell an intermittently nonlinear story, “The Master” unfortunately manages to elude simple entertainment value. The plot is stuffed with minutiae, randomness, strange people amplified by odder activities, and unexplained spontaneous reactions. Characters go through the motions of having extraordinary, or at least noteworthy, lives stuffed with alternately aberrance, unpleasantness, wealth, and the cruelly bizarre exercises of “informal processing.” But rarely is a purpose presented, outside of an in-depth character study that spends entirely too much time observing and not enough time communicating to the audience.

Whether or not the seeming brainwashing, hypnosis, or conditioning techniques of the mystical religion of “The Master” sparks controversy (likely from the more political and religious crowds) for its similarities to actual systems of belief, it’s sure to gain unanimous notoriety for the performance by Joaquin Phoenix. He’s continuously watchable, drawing doubt away from the meandering plot to zero in on a unique role, full of idiosyncrasies and piercing expressions. The unhurried camera lingers on his peculiarities, carefully beholding without specifically interpreting. But this is also where it fails – in a strained attempt to play mind games and appear artistically erudite, there’s an unfocused narrative and a disappointingly irresolute conclusion.

– The Massie Twins

  • 4/10