Friday, December 7, 2012

"The Master" review

"The Master"

Written & Directed by
Paul Thomas Anderson

If you're a Paul Thomas Anderson fan, then you're well aware, at this point, that he loves making his fans wait an enormous amount of time for his next film. Between Punch-Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood, it was five years. And now between TWBB and The Master, it's been yet another five years.

I am a huge fan of PTA and consider him to be the greatest director of his generation, and of the last twenty years he's been making films.

Now when I read that PTA was working on a script loosely based on Scientology and the workings of L. Ron Hubbard, I was ecstatic. When I found out he was teaming up with Philip Seymour Hoffman for a fifth time, using PSH to play the L. Ron Hubbard inspired character, I was threw the roof. And when I finally saw the first teaser that PTA himself, cut together, that simply involved Joaquin Phoenix's demented character being interviewed by a V.A. Doctor, spliced with scenes of him on the beach and carving, I was in the clouds. The excitement was overbearing and my expectations were higher than they've ever been for anything.

Now, unfortunately, the first time I viewed The Master, it was NOT a 70MM print, but a digital projection. Which I was very upset about, but I just didn't care at that point. I just needed to see this film, no matter what. Thankfully, I was able to see it two more times, those times, in delicious 70MM.

The film is PTA's most emotionally exhausting film to date. And the heaviest on character and the weakest on plot narrative. When the film's over, you feel dizzy. Literally.

Now many people have been complaining a great deal about the lack of narrative and character development, but if you know PTA's past films, he's an expert at character development and beautifully structured narrative, so I never believed those criticisms to be legitimate. He knew what he was doing.

My theory on why it didn't seem to make much sense and has no development, was because, well. In a way, Scientology doesn't really make much sense. Nor does religion, itself. Or life, for that matter. Everything is sloppy in our existence. And sometimes people don't change. This is more of an experimental navigation into one's psyche, then a traditional narrative film. Which I respect.

For those of you who haven't seen the film at this point (Shame on you by the way...), nor do you even know the storyline. It centers on a young Naval veteran (played by a returning Joaquin Phoenix in a game changing performance) as Freddie Quell who comes back from the war, very unsettled about his life and his future. He eventually jumps onto a Yacht where a mysterious party is taking place and this is where he meets The Master, himself. Lancaster Dodd (played by the always brilliant, Philip Seymour Hoffman), who takes him under his wing and introduces him to his fact based religion, known as The Cause.

Freddie is reluctantly thrown into several physical and mental exercises to serve as his initiation into the religious "family," that also consists of Amy Adams, Laura Dern, Rami Malek, and Jesse Plemons. All give wonderful performances, but Amy Adams takes the cake, as Lancaster's subtle, but tough wife and co-leader.

The film is made up of a bunch of amazing scenes/sequences, but no destination. It plays out like one giant arc. Which, from a screenwriter's POV, that's a big no, no. But I loved it.

PTA breaks all the rules of traditional storytelling and doesn't make a single apology about it. The film clocks in at 144 minutes and doesn't quite hold the story to warrant that length, but it flew by for me. Considering how hypnotising the entire film is and that the wonderfully crafted use of 70MM film was so amazing to witness. Makes you wish more directors shot in that format. Hopefully a film of this scale, will open other directors' eyes.

The film is an actor's piece, without question. Joaquin Phoenix is unlike any performance you've ever seen before. From beginning to end, he IS Freddie. It's scary. All throughout, you're on the edge of your seat, waiting for something to happen. The film is extremely tense and very unpredictable.

One of the major stand out scenes, which just goes to show how brilliant PTA is, just doing basic two shots and OTS, with two actors speaking to each other, is when Master asks Freddie to keep his eyes open and answer a series of emotional questions without blinking. It was set at a perfect point in the story where you're sort of waiting for that intensity to rise, and then all of a sudden this scene comes at you like a bullet.

If there is a criticism, I'd have to say, I was a bit curious as to what PTA was trying to say with this film. If he was trying to say anything. However, that wasn't enough for me to dislike it in the slightest.

I'll admit when I finished it the first time, I was a bit underwhelmed. I knew I liked it, but wasn't sure what level it was at. Then I went to bed, but couldn't sleep. Was tossing and turning. Then I woke up at 7A.M. the next morning, and realized it was one of the finest films of the year, if not, the best. And one of the most astonishing character studies ever put on screen.

Bravo to everyone involved.


"Observancy is a dying art." - Stanley Kubrick

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