‘The Master’ Review


The least one can expect from a Paul Thomas Anderson film is good acting. The American directors’ filmography can only testify. Boogie Nights (1997) was arguably Mark Wahlberg’s breakthrough performance, Magnolia (1999) garnered an Academy Award nomination for Tom Cruise, and Anderson surprised everyone when he coached a role of serious dramatic depth out of Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love (2002). Most recently, he transformed the chameleonic Daniel Day-Lewis into greed-driven oilman Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood (2007), a role that won the actor an Academy Award for Best Actor. Anderson has once again gotten the best out of his charges in The Master, starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. That said, the film’s other facets are relatively less satisfying.
Set in the 1950s, The Master depicts Phoenix as alcoholic World War II veteran Freddie Quell, who stumbles upon Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a philosophical movement named The Cause. Dodd, with the help of his wife, played by Adams, attempts to help Quell find a sense of purpose. Throughout, Dodd’s methods are questioned, albeit quietly. Nonetheless, Quell grows attached to this new authoritative figure in his life, for better or worse.

There is just so much to take in and think about, both during and after the film, including the similarities between The Cause and Scientology. Tom Cruise, A Hollywood figurehead of the latter belief, was given an early screening of The Master by Paul Thomas Anderson as an act of courtesy. Cruise was reportedly upset after the viewing, while Anderson has expressed in countless interviews that the similarities are merely coincidental. Moreover, the parallels certainly do not distract from the film’s remarkable cinematography or stellar performances.

Anderson has created a piece of work that is far from suitable for the casual movie-goer. Still, those who don’t mind leaving the cinema with more questions than answers will be pleased with The Master. Anderson’s films have, for the most part, been studies of character more than straightforward, linear storytelling features. Thus, the creation of two vivid leads in the shape of Quell and Dodd was a vehicle that both Phoenix and Hoffman drive perfectly. And while the two performances aren’t necessarily reason enough to see the film, they are brilliant compensation for those who will have trouble comprehending the film’s ruminative premise.