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Star - Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Certificate - 18R
Run Time - 144 minutes
Country - USA
Blockbuster - £3.50 per night
Awards - 3 Oscar nominations
Amazon -£11.00 DVD (£11.35 Blue Ray)
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"If you figure a way to live without serving a master, any master, and then let the rest of us know, will you? For you'd be the first person in the history of the world".
You all know this movie folks. It's the one the big name broadsheet critics rave about and so all beneath them follow suit so not to feel stupid and so it ends up at The Oscars. The talented cast acts their socks off for the revered director but when you actually watch it not a lot happens, the experience feeling somewhat empty. Don't get me wrong. There is nothing bad about The Master and it's brilliantly acted. But is it an actual movie? There is no real narrative or, indeed, a beginning or an end, AND completely left up to you decide what you are watching. It's very much in that Donnie Darko genre.
Its based loosely on John Huston's black and white documentary called 'Let There be Light', about the often disturbed mindset of returning American soldiers from World War Two and where they go from their in life and work, and a film that also lean towards exploring the controversy mind-bending manipulation of Scientology.
It's directed by the fastidious Paul Thomas Anderson, yet another exposition of his talent, he of the nothing movie There Will be Blood, the rather good Punch Drunk Love (only one of two decent films ever made by Adam Sandler) and the astounding Magnolia, Boogie Nights completing the mixed bag.
As I say because the critics raved about it all three lead performers were nominated for Oscars here, that of Phillip Seymour - Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams, ultimately not successful, their acting far more intense and interesting than the movie to The Academy, it seems, neither Paul Thomas Anderson or the film nominated in its own right.
= = = Cast = = =
Joaquin Phoenix.... as Freddie Quell
Philip Seymour Hoffman.... as Lancaster Dodd
Amy Adams..... as Peggy Dodd
Ambyr Childers.... as Elizabeth Dodd
Jesse Plemons .....as Val Dodd
Rami Malek.... as Clark
Laura Dern.... as Helen Sullivan
Madisen Beaty.... as Doris Solstad
Lena Endre.... as Mrs. Solstad
Kevin J. O'Connor.... as Bill William
= = = The Plot = = =
World War Two is running down in the Pacific for Navy rating Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) and his unit, spending their final days getting high on military moonshine (made form Ethanol out of the torpedo tips, amongst other ingredients) and hanging out at the beach and the local bars in Manila.
Once demobed they have to make their own way in the world, Freddie moving from job to job, state to state, ending up a drunken stowaway on a ship owned by charismatic cult leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), known as The Master in the Manhattan social circles, where his ship is steaming to.
The two connect and Lancaster sees this free spirit as a challenge, a man who claims to have no master and do as he pleases, Lancaster offering to fix Freddie's obvious character flaws of uncontrolled violence and alcoholism, a rather vacant unfeeling guy.
Becoming part of the ships crew as paid rating the two begin an intense journey together, Lancaster drawn to the increasing challenge, Freddie becoming his mental and physical muscle when outsiders challenge Lancaster's cult and ideas. It's unclear if this is a homosexual attraction as both men are heterosexual but Lancaster's deconstruction programs often involve sexual content, the classic narcissistic cult leader. But its Freddie's longing for his childhood sweetheart that is at the centre of his angst, a journey he must make to cure his mania.
= = = Results = = =
This is not a cinema film in any way guys and so made for DVD, now the time to see it. It's well acted and intelligent with some interesting themes and scripting but little story or meaning. It tanked in the cinema and for its $32 million budget and did just $28 million back. It's not alienating but just pure cinema, aimed at officiandos of the craft over those looking for a standard thoughtful drama, looking great and beautifully presented. Hoffman is deviant and intriguing as ever and accompanied by an amazing performance by Joachim Phoenix, a clear career best. Matt Dillon would have been a shoe in for this ten years ago, that type of role, Phoenix bringing a lick of Jack Nicholson to his turn.
But apart from that it's all about the tension between the two men and more than that hint of homoerotica. Paul Thomas Andersen seems to be obsessed with that hidden and seedier side of male sexuality. Again, you must see Magnolia if you get the chance.
Whereas Scientology is designed to relieve middle-class professional people of a big chunk of their salaries, this film is more about the control of the human spirit to maintain order from chaos, delving into the human psyche of those who try to defy convention. Andersen is wise enough not to mess with scientology in Hollywood.
Phoenix captures the near torment of a man on the edge of madness, riddled with anxiety on his place in the big wide world. But it's all too grand and bold of an idea for a movie and becomes too obfuscated for the viewer to get a grasp on what it's really all about. Not pretentious but just open-ended. I don't mind character studies but I think the director got a little insular here with that character study. But the broadsheet critics can't be wrong, right?
= = = = RATINGS = = = =
Imdb.com - 7.2/10.0 (49,326 votes)
Metacrtic.com - 86% critic's approval
Rottentomatos.com - 60% critic's approval
= = = = Critics = = = =
The Patriot -'A perverted sausage party in which Anderson fully indulges his obsession with male genitalia'.
Empire Magazine - "An often brilliant '50s-throwback character drama that never feels nostalgic, with terrific central performances and a luminous, unforgettable visual beauty.".
Movie News -'Despite sumptuous cinematography and sublime acting, Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film ultimately feels a touch pointless'.
Film Feast -'THE MASTER is a brilliant film. THE MASTER is a confounding film. The Master is a terrible film. THE MASTER may talked about for the ages or forgotten in a few years. THE MASTER may be a masterpiece, THE MASTER may be empty of content'.
The NY Post -'THE MASTER is challenging, perplexing, at times infuriating - and always thoughtful. Indelible. And always, always beautiful'.
This is more character study than story. Yet, it feels as shallow as The Cause itself, as maddeningly opaque as Dodd's motivations
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There is no denying that Paul Thomas Anderson ("Boogie Nights," "Magnolia," "There Will be Blood") is the most dynamic, bold, and intelligent director around. He is completely fearless in undertaking a challenging topic to use as a basis for his films, he seems undeterred by what anyone thinks of the themes of his work, and his deliberate ambiguity in his characters, the deep complexities, the uncomfortable situations, hard-hitting scenarios, all make their appearances in whatever story he decides to tell: very little changes in his latest award-winning, hotly anticipated "The Master," a film that is being considered as one of the greatest in Anderson's career and quite possibly as the best film of 2012. Dense, heavy narrative? Check. Top-notch performances? Check. But Anderson's latest is too puzzling to be a true masterpiece. You get the feeling that there is something great here - an insightful character study of sorts, delving into a struggling man's psyche, but due to the many obstacles that stand in the way of the film being a widely accessible experience, it sadly misses out on becoming a classic.
Although loosely based on the rise in popularity of the controversial religion Scientology, it would be a mistake to assume that this is in any way a chronology of the group's development or a piece of expose to somehow undermine or insult the often criticised group. Instead we concentrate on the story of Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix), a traumatised World War II Navy veteran who has lost his way. Alcohol and sex are the two things that he's addicted to, and he has a special knack for producing his own quality booze wherever he ends up. Not able to secure a job due to his fiery, uncontrollable temper, he decides to sneak aboard a swanky looking ship, where a life-changing encounter occurs.
He has very little recollection of the night he crashed the extravagant party thrown by the ship's owner Lancaster Todd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). But Todd is intrigued: Freddie's volatile behaviour, his childlike qualities, his aimless path, and last but not least, his exceptional ability to make his own very unique brand of endless supply of alcohol. Todd is the founder of a philosophical movement known as "The Cause" and with that he believes it is his duty to help out the lost Freddie, and make him realise his true potential, as well as his place and purpose in life. He's charismatic, well-spoken, intelligent, and knows what to say when.
Essentially he is very good at what he does, as he inspires and moves people, which is why he has so many loyal supporters who follow him no matter what. His wife, Peggy (Amy Adams), is clearly one of his biggest devotees, respecting and admiring her husband and everything he's achieved thus far, firmly believing that their organisation has much more to accomplish. The sudden arrival of this unstable individual, who in her opinion doesn't have anything positive to add to their already much panned group, is a cause for alarm, as she quietly but decisively casts a weary set of eyes on the stranger. Their son Val (Jesse Plemons) however, is less convinced about his father's endeavour, even going so far as to openly admit to Freddie that his father is "making all this up as he goes along...you don't see that?"
So what is this guy Todd really up to? Is he a fraud? Or does he actually consciously believe in what he's doing? His methods of teaching and focus on human psychology, the live, repetitive experiments he subjects his members to seem crazy and unnerving to start with, but for a broken man like Freddie, this alternate way of guidance, as well as Todd's open arms, generosity and understanding nature become almost irresistible. Todd very gently pulls out the necessary answers from Freddie, what happened to him in the past, what has hurt him most, his insecurities, all buried deep in his complex mind web. In an unforgettable scene where the two lead actors are placed against one another, with Hoffman rapidly firing off a series of questions in an intense therapy session to an unsuspecting Phoenix, a lot is carefully revealed in the tense, powerful atmosphere, slowly unravelling the character who quite frankly isn't an easy case by any means.
Yes, the pair of Volpi Cup (top acting prizes at the Venice Film Festival) winning performances can truly be summed up as a brilliant master class in acting perfection, a duo so well matched that their efforts will not go unnoticed. With Phoenix it's those unflinching eyes that do most of the talking. Whenever he loses his way, his downward spiral is quite the dramatic and disturbing one, with Phoenix quite literally giving all he's got physically to the role. His erratic, unpredictable changes, at times bordering on psychosis are so utterly mesmerising that if he would only stop trash-talking the Oscars and Awards Season madness, he would surely score an easy win - because when it comes down to the performance alone, there is no-one who can beat the bar that's been set by Phoenix here.
Equally impressive is Hoffman, as the enigmatic leader, calmly using his words and civility to spread his message. He's the complete opposite to Freddie, who would much rather have a punch-up with and lash out at anyone who dares to speak up against The Cause. Hoffman has enjoyed many successes in supporting roles over the years and he works his magic once again here - by convincingly interacting with someone who arguably takes up more of the screening time, he still leaves his mark and presence felt in his composed, collected form, anchoring his role as the sturdy leader. He also succeeds in painting a vague picture around the core of his character; at times he seems to believe every word he's preaching, but there are moments where he himself seems to be lost for answers. Is he a fraud? Is he leading a cult? Is he as smart as everyone makes him out to be? We will never truly know.
And there is no denying that the film is full of unclear messages and themes to be a truly compelling one. The relationship between the two men seems to be the main focus but even that doesn't give the audience a clear enough perception into them to maintain enough drama and interest throughout its running time. As it spends too much time blundering around these two, there is very little time for anyone else to flourish, and although Adams does come off well as the steel-eyed wife, there isn't much for her to do to gain any substantial recognition which is a shame, since this could have been one of her strongest roles. And as is the case with most Anderson's films, everything looks phenomenal. The much lauded 70mm dose bring out the enhanced quality and his many close-ups into the outstanding actors' faces further give Phoenix and Hoffman to shine in their difficult roles. But here is a film that falls short of true grandeur and greatness due to its lack of exploration into its initially fascinating subject matter.