Paul Thomas Anderson is one of those directors whose films are cinematic masterpieces. There Will Be Blood, Magnolia, Boogie Nights and his resume can go on and on with films that really have such great acting and very well crafted storytelling. The Master is no different, all the things we come to expect from a Anderson film are all on display, from that one actor who really goes beyond the script, like Tom Cruise did in Magnolia, Adam Sandler did in Punch Drunk Love and this time it is Phillip Seymour Hoffman who since Happiness has made a career of really showcasing his depth, range and emotion as an actor. This film does not have one role who is worthy of an Oscar with Hoffman playing a character that seems to be based on L Ron Hubbard, but two as the comeback kid Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell. I think when it comes to Hoffman people will point at Capote as his best role, but I think this role is on par if not a step better than his role as Capote. For people whose thoughts of Phoenix all derive from that public downfall he had a few years back that really killed his career, the man really shows you in this film why he deserves a second chance.
The film opens with Quell on board this US Navy vessel in the Pacific just as World War II was ending. The film shows that Quell seems to be this lush, and loves booze of all shapes, sizes and flavors. The film tries to start on a positive note with the news that peace has been reached, but with Quell we start to think he has a different message as he begins draining fuel off a torpedo, and as the film goes on he creates concoctions from almost anything possible. We find out that the boat belongs to a character named Lancaster Dodd who with his wife Peggy is en route to New York to celebrate the marriage of their daughter. Lancaster is introduced to us as some kind of writer, as well as a philosopher and a nuclear physicist. He seems to be forming this group called The Cause who has followers who are also on this ship with them. Quell discovers a stow away on board in Quell, but instead of getting rid of him, there seems to be some fascination that Lancaster has with Quell.
The Master is one of those films that unless you are a fan of Anderson, you may not get into this film. I feel that while the actors all the way across the board including Amy Adams as Peggy Dodd and Laura Dern as Helen Sullivan really gave career defining performances, but my issue with this film is that I felt it touched only certain aspects and sort of made some things feel uncertain or clouded. Like Doddâ€™s earlier history ( since he is supposed to be L. Ron) and it never brings up what Hubbard would make his name on, which is science fiction. The Causeâ€™s deal was always not clear as well, I feel while the story was well told, they could have delved more into this by telling us little details like what qualifies someone to be a part or what do they have to give up or pay to do it. I understand this is a work of fiction, but I felt at times that this film only told part of a story that we would love to have known more about. The chemistry between the two main characters carries this film, because we are left wondering how these two polar opposites can have such a strange fascination, almost obsession with each other. Anderson is definitely a great director and his resume speaks for itself with this film while capturing so much and really giving fans a film that they will talk about either positive or negative after the credits, (I feel he is a genius at the mastering of getting the most out of his actors) but he always seems to fall short with just the simple details of storytelling, that he goes so deep into characterization that he forgets at times to cover the surface.
While I think There Will be Blood was heads and shoulders a way better film, I did not mind The Master, and thought this film does so much for Phoenix to wipe off that meltdown he had a few years ago, and also puts Hoffman in the category of actors that seem to always give us the role of a lifetime each Oscar worthy film they work on. It is directors like Anderson that we become fans of films, he really seems to give us film after film that really paint such vivid pictures and tell amazing stories.
8 out of 10