The Master


WRITTEN BY: Paul Thomas Anderson
DIRECTED BY: Paul Thomas Anderson
STARRING: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
RATING: 1 star

I'm going to make an unpopular comment. I did not like The Master and I think it is the most overrated film of the year. I don't understand how this film could produce so much Oscar hype. Aside from a strong performance from Joaquin Phoenix, the film which has a great concept, failed to engage me with its pointless dribble and drawn-out plot in which we come to a conclusion of absolutely nothing. I don't think I had unreasonably high expectations, it was just plain boring. I literally wanted to fall asleep during the screening and one man sitting near me actually did. The most interesting aspect about The Master is that it is the first film to be shot in 65mm, and projected in 70mm on some screens, since Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet in 1996. But, unless you're a film geek, you probably wouldn't even care about that either.

The title character is inspired by L. Ron Hubbard, who founded Scientology. The Master opens with Freddie Quell (Phoenix) who is onboard a US navy vessel in the Pacific when World War Two ends. Freddie is a strange man with odd sexual desires and a raging inner violence that can explode at any moment. He also spends a lot of time drinking unusual concoctions he creates from chemicals including paint thinner. After he gives a potentially fatal cocktail to a migrant worker in a California cabbage field, he runs away and hides on a yacht belonging to Lancaster Dodd, (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Dodd tells Freddie: "I am a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist and a theoretical philosopher, but above all, I am a man, a hopelessly inquisitive man, just like you." Dodd is founding a group named the Cause and the two men quickly bond with Dodd offering Freddie advice and teaches him about the Cause. Freddie also picks fights with anyone who opposes Dodd's teachings.

Phoenix gives a very interesting performance. His character seems almost insane and is incredibly violent and complicated. Hoffman was also convincing as a cult leader. Amy Adams is a good actress but she was underutilised in the film as Dodd's wife, Peggy. Unfortunately, The Master is so centred on the two leads without explaining enough about them that the plot goes nowhere. It should have been at least 40 minutes shorter and the characters could have been better developed. Instead, the protagonists remain an enigma and we don't learn what they truly believe. In a nutshell, if you thought the film might offer an insight into Scientology, forget about it.


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