Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Movie Review: The Master


Finally. Finally, the latest film from Paul Thomas Anderson is upon us. For those of you who don't know, I've been counting the days til this film was released for months now. PTA is arguably, the best director of his generation and after the masterpiece that was There Will Be Blood, expectations for his newest film were high to say the least.

Well The Master is an amazing film but I can't say that it doesn't disappoint. It does. But I think it does so on purpose. You'll see...

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The film centers around a drunken WWII vet named Freddie Quell, (played marvelously by Joaquin Phoenix) who drifts through misadventure after misadventure until he stumbles across an enigmatic con-man/cult leader named Lancaster Dodd (played by the brilliant, Philip Seymour Hoffman). Dodd's religion, The Cause, is a dead ringer for Scientology, with it's grueling physical and mental exercises that purportedly, help alleviate the stings of past traumas. The promise of equilibrium, and the apparent familial bonds of Dodd's organization appeal to Freddie. The only problem is, he's bat shit crazy. Mental illness runs in his family, even before he became a PTSD candidate from his stint in the Navy and a violent drunk after returning to civilian life. Freddie is a slave to his primal urges, an impulsive bull in the hyper regimented China shop that Dodd has created with The Cause. Freddie longs to be loved and accepted, The Cause offers him these things but only after changing who he fundamentally is.

That's pretty much the plot of the movie. Freddie is basically an out of control maniac and Dodd is the ultimate manipulator. Watching the sparks fly in their scenes together is electrifying. What happens when the unstoppable force meets an immovable object? You get the jail cell scene. It's amazing to watch, especially on a giant screen. The Master was filmed in 70mm, the same as the old period epics from the 1960's, but instead of sweeping battle scenes and panoramic views, Anderson's film predominantly features people talking in rooms and intense closeups of it's actor's faces. This helps make the extremely powerful characters appear truly, larger than life.

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The film is beautiful to look at. It seems like Paul Thomas Anderson can do no wrong regarding the technical aspects of film making.  Every shot is gorgeous and engaging. Most of the film consists of just people talking indoors and never once did I feel bored. The way he places the camera, even in a living room, is almost always captivating. That being said, there are still TONS of visual treats for you cinematography fiends. Nearly all the Navy sequences at sea are breathtaking, along with Dodd's ship sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge at dawn, or Freddie racing motorcycles in the desert. These shots are more awe inspiring than all the 3D/CGI effects in the world.

Then there's the music. Holy fuck Johnny Greenwood's score is amazing. The sounds (some might call it music) he created in There Will Be Blood were not only menacing and foreboding (like John Williams work on Jaws, intense), they were so overpowering at times his score felt like another character itself. Well his work here in The Master is equally pleasing. This time his score has the opposite effect. Instead of knocking down your door and shoving the horrors of the American frontier in your face, his subtle, dreamlike compositions in The Master creep into your psyche and place the viewer into a foggy haze, much like Freddie Quell's character. It's amazing and truly haunting.

That's also how I felt after leaving the theater. I felt just as lost and haunted as poor Freddie. Anderson's film is intentionally vague. There are no great character archs or traditional climax of any sort. The characters interact on screen, and when they do it's amazing to behold, but then they just float away. The first shot of the film are waves breaking in the ocean. That's exactly what The Master is structured like. All in all it's a marvelous cluster fuck, just like Freddie Quell himself.

As the film's director, Anderson is Dodd, playing the role of master to his guinea pig Freddie/ the audience. I saw the The Master in 70mm projection at the Arclight Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, my senses were so overwhelmed by the ginormous visuals and sounds I was like Freddie during the "processing" scene, completely at the master's mercy. I can't wait to delve into this film again and build up my defenses. Maybe then I can piece together all the thing's PTA was hinting at, about id and ego, acceptance and dependency, fucking yin and yang. Til then, I say go see The Master on the biggest screen you can and marvel at top tier film making and Oscar worthy performances.

10 comments:

  1. That's so cool that this was directed by the same guy who directed There Will Be Blood. I can actually see aspects from There Will Be Blood seeping out from this and it sounds like a real treat that I should seriously get around to watching. Thanks for alerting me to the existence of this movie dude, it's a must see to me right now and that's after only reading your review!

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  2. It sounds like it is pretty good but I prefer something I can definitively call an end. Still the visuals and the psychology of it would appeal to me a lot.

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  3. Yeah this is one I have on my list to watch, the trailer looks good and your review makes me want to watch it more.

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  4. And now I'm completely sold. How nice of you.

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  5. Is that Johnny Greenwood out of Radiohead? I myself am on a one man crusade to promote the Dredd movie. I've been a fan of Judge Dredd for 35 years and the first Stallone movie was abysmal. This new one is great but no-one wants to see it. Tragic.

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    1. yes sir, Mr Radiohead himself. I saw Dredd last weekend and LOVED IT. review should be coming soon.

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  6. If sounds like a pscho movie, count me in. If it turns out to be like Drive, I am coming after you. ;)

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  7. I hadn't even heard of this movie until now but it sounds incredibly well done.

    I'm curious about it, but not sure when I'll make time to watch it.

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  8. Nice review here. This movie rocked ass, for many reasons that you mentioned. I certainly hope the Academy doesn't screw Greenwood again. And yeah, Mihai Malaimare Jr.'s photography was relevatory. Bloody gorgeous.

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