The Master (10/6/12)

The MasterMovie Two Hundred Twenty Five

A troubled Naval veteran returns from war and finds himself befriended by the leader of a cult-like movement in The Master.

Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a World War II veteran from the Navy that has an increasing problem with drinking homemade concoctions, involving chemicals and substances that most will cringe at. Freddie finds odd jobs, notably as a department store photographer and cabbage farmer, but his drinking gets him into trouble. One evening, he wanders onto the boat chartered by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Dodd is quickly taken by Quell and uses Quell’s fragile state of mind to help mold his pseudo-religious movement, The Cause.

I have struggled with how I am going to write my review of The Master (also part of the reason why I am writing the review now, over a week after seeing it). First, let’s discuss the things that I know I liked and can be universally recommended. Everything about The Master on a technical level is a remarkable achievement. The cinematography, the editing, the thrumming soundtrack, and perhaps most of all, the acting. Both Hoffman and Phoenix (and even Amy Adams, who plays Dodd’s wife) give groundbreaking performances here. I’ve seen several derisive comments about Phoenix’s role not being too far from when we last saw him in I’m Still Here, but he is an actor, and I will defend that he is a powerhouse in The Master.

I will also say that I was thoroughly engrossed with The Master from the opening frame and well after the film ended  I was still contemplating my thoughts on the film. My mother asked me what I thought of it “I don’t know…” I said, as I trailed off without being able to expound on my thoughts. My biggest issue with the film is that nothing is presented in a clear manner, which wouldn’t necessarily be a problem except the film is too nebulous for its own good some of the time. Character’s motives and thoughts are strongly hinted at but never developed in a manner that satiated me and the result is a film that doesn’t seem to quite come out from the fog of one of Quell’s hangovers.

If you asked me if I liked The Master I would now instantly be able to say “yes” without hesitation. My problems with the narrative did not hold the film back from being something tremendous, but it does make for a slightly frustrating experience. I would not be able to easily recommend The Master, though. In the theater I was in, I was the youngest viewer by around 15 years, I would guess, and I was surprised that some of the people didn’t walk out when Quell was behaving in completely bizarre ways at the beginning of the film. The people I expected to walk out were thoroughly confused by the film by the end, and loudly voiced their dissent as the credits rolled.

The Master is a divisive film; you will likely love it or hate it and in that respect, I consider it this year’s Tree of Life. There’s a wonderful film here but it is held back by it’s own persistence in not giving us a full story. The film seems to want to tell the origins of Scientology but doesn’t, though it does offer some perspective on conditioning. If The Master had only been a bit more straightforward with its intentions, I really think the film would be undeniably amazing but as it is now, it’s a mixed bag that would be hard to recommend for all viewers.

I give it 4 Torpedo Juice cocktails out of 5.


Rotten Tomatoes


38 responses to “The Master (10/6/12)

  1. Good review Andy. Honestly, who the hell knows what this film’s talking about half of the time, but damn is it interesting to watch. The performances are stellar, and Anderson’s story-telling never ceases to amaze me and always takes me by storm with every flick he makes.

  2. I think P.T.A. is an incredible film maker by all means but I think I’m the only person on earth who didn’t like There Will Be Blood. This reminds me of that movie (obviously in a different setting) so I don’t have high hopes….

    • They are both kind of droning films but this one has a lot more going on…but it’s also a lot more nebulous about what’s going on.
      That said, they are similar enough where I’m not sure you would like The Master

  3. Your’s has been the best review on The Master that I have read so far. You’ve nailed the exremes and calling it this years Tree of Life as I did in my review. As a friend said “this is one you will think about long after and should be watched over to pick up more”

    • Thank you! I really struggled with writing it, so I’m glad it didn’t sound like rambling
      I want to watch it again after writing about it and maybe that means it’s a better movie than I thought.

  4. I think ultimately what the film is about is the relationship of these two main characters and how they need each other. Unfortunately, even that was muddled. Everything seemed so arbitrary. If Hoffman’s character had been an Amway salesman, then Freddie might’ve joined that. There was nothing presented about this religion itself that made me understand why he was drawn to it. The first half was decent, but it just fell apart in the 2nd half. One of the biggest disappointments of 2012 from a director I love.

    • If both of their motivations were more clear it would have undoubtedly made a better movie, I agree. I spent the movie debating whether or not Dodd wanted to break Quell since he saw him as an untamable mad dog, or what. His motivations could have been made clear in a 5 minute private conversation with his wife and that literally could have made the movie much better for me.

  5. I admire Paul Thomas Anderson more than I like his films – he’s a genuine original and you have to admire a film maker who can get such abstract, emotional and out there films made in a climate which is anything but auteur friendly.

    He’s the very definition of an actor’s director, I guess.

  6. I really loved this one and probably my favorite so far this year. I agree with you that it’s this year’s “Tree of Life,” a lot of people were polarized by both. I think it’s a movie that deserves multiple viewings in order to comprehend the story. Nice review.

  7. PTA just gets better and better; always abstained from Hollywood detritus and did his own thing. A good film leaves you pondering. So what did you finally tell your mom? 🙂

  8. that’s enough of a recommendation for me to see it. btw: by request of another blogger, i’m working on a top 12 list of movies of all time, but with certain criteria, such as can’t be an adaptation from a book and a few other things.

    • It’s worth seeing as long as you go in expecting a movie that you may not “get” at face value.
      Ooh, very interesting request. I’d be up for doing a list like that as well after you do yours

  9. nice review Andy. am quite curious about this film. to my recollection, i don’t remember the storyline in There will be blood (which is probably much easier to understand than this), but i liked the movie because of its atmosphere, cinematography, and heavy acting. guess sometimes that’s enough. kind of like 2001 space odyssey. you’re not quite sure about what its saying, but its parts are enough to keep us absorbed.

  10. Thanks for the review. And I’m always drawn to a movie that you may need to see a few times to get its full impact. And I’m a huge fan of Phillip Seymour Hoffman and I heard he was phenomenal. So really looking forward to seeing this.

  11. Pingback: My October Movies Round-Up | Andy Watches Movies

  12. Pingback: The Master Review: Don’t Blink | Rorschach Reviews

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