PG Cooper: The Master Review

Posted: October 1, 2012 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Release date: September 14th, 2012 (limited)

Running time: 2 hours and 17 minutes

Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams

Last summer I got my first taste of filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson when I rented There Will Be Blood. Like most people, I was blown away. After that, I began going through Anderson’s filmography and have now seen all of his films. I’ve loved most of Anderson’s films and Magnolia is one of my top ten favourite films. It would be safe to say I view Paul Thomas Anderson as one of the best filmmakers working today. This, in addition to a great cast and great marketing, led to my highly anticipating his most recent film; The Master. I’d hoped Anderson would deliver another bold, challenging, and ambitious film. I’m happy to say Anderson didn’t disappoint.

The Master follows Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a World War Two veteran who finds himself disillusioned and with post-traumatic stress disorder following the war. For a few years he drifts through life, unable to hold a job or home. In 1950, after stumbling about in a drunken rage, Quell stumbles across a strange religion/cult beginning its formation called “The Cause”. “The Cause” is run by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a man who claims of many talents including psychology, writing, and medicine. Dodd is intrigued by Quell and offers to help him, claiming that “The Cause” will provide Quell with a path. Quell accepts and soon finds himself fully swallowed by “The Cause”.

The Master has a reputation as “that Scientology movie” amongst people, but that isn’t a very accurate description. First and foremost, the film is a character study focusing on Freddie Quell. Quell is a fascinating character, a being motivated purely by his base desires. The man has no filter; he’s constantly thinking about sex and acting on said urges, he’s prone to violent outbursts and to top it all off the Quell is a huge alcoholic. Though for all his negative qualities, Quell does seem to have a genuine human core and several layers of emotion are revealed as the movie progresses. As such, you feel sympathy for the man, but he’s also frightening since you’re never sure when he’s going to fly off the handle. Joaquin Phoenix fully immerses himself in the role and delivers a brilliant performance. Everything from Phoenix’s voice to his movements is interesting and he really brings this character to life. Freddie Quell could have easily become irritating or even worse cartoonish, but Phoenix is so good in the role that the character is completely believable.

Playing opposite Phoenix is Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd. Dodd is also a very interesting character. Where Quell is someone who is all about acting on desire, Dodd is someone who suppresses his base desires. Both feel like they’re two sides of the same coin. This is made even more apparent in any scene where someone questions Dodd about “The Cause”. Dodd quickly loses his cool demeanour and reveals levels of hostility and rage beneath. Hoffman gives an incredible performance. He is very charismatic and brings an air of intelligence the part requires. He feels like a man in control, one who commands power. It’s easy to believe how a character like this would gain so many followers.

Phoenix and Hoffman play off each other insanely well. Some of the film’s best scenes are the ones where Dodd is testing Quell. An early scene where Dodd vigorously questions Quell is especially impressive and one of the best scenes I’ve seen in any film all year. Watching the relationship between the two men change over time is really interesting to watch as is the way the two compare and contrast. Both men have mysterious motives and I wondered throughout what their end games were and in many ways they feel like they come together to form one entity. This is done through the performances, the script, and the way Paul Thomas Anderson chooses to shoot them.

The last great link in the cast is Amy Adams, who plays Lancaster Dodd’s wife Peggy. Adams isn’t given as much to do as Phoenix or Hoffman, and she doesn’t dominate the screen the same way they do either. But Adams does play an interesting and layered character. She sinks into her role just as well as her male co-stars and is able to hold her own against them. She even manages to have some great scenes herself. The rest of the cast is also good. All of the other actors do a fine job too. No performances are weak and kudos on the casting of Jessie Plemons as Lancaster Dodd’s son. Overall, it’s a good cast backing the award worthy work from Phoenix, Hoffman, and Adams.

With The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson has continued to grow as a director. He employs a lot of stunning visuals thanks in large part to cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. Anderson has also reteamed with Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead. Greenwood scored There Will Be Blood and he provides another great score here. At times the score is tense and unsettling, while being lucid and dreamlike in others. At times the film feels like visual and auditory poetry. Anderson knows when to use such stylish elements and also when to pull back and allow the actors and script to stand on their own.

The script is very well written. The characters are all three dimensional and the dialogue is intelligent whilst remaining natural. The film also raises some interesting questions. One that I noticed is who is the real master? The obvious answer is Lancaster Dodd seeing as he views Quell as an assignment who he intends to reform and transform into his protégé. But Quell could be using Dodd solely for his own gain, planning to drop Dodd once he’s acquired what he wants. And what of Dodd’s wife Peggy? She may not seem it, but she clearly has a lot of power over her husband. Which one is the true master? The Master also raises some interesting questions about the nature of cults, the power religion has over people, the effectiveness of religion in solving problems, and how one finds their path after being disillusioned. I don’t pretend to know the answers to all these questions. I have my theories and ideas but I don’t want to share them here and now, in part because I feel The Master will require more time and at least one more viewing before I can make a firm judgement on what it all means, and in part because I don’t want to reveal anything which can be considered a spoiler.

The Master is a film that won’t work for everyone. It’s a long film with a slow pace, there are several bizarre scenes, and Quell can be a very unpleasant character. As a result, it’s a film that won’t click for everyone. Fortunately the film clicked with me in a big way. This is easily one of my favourite films of the year. I haven’t been hit by a film this way since Moonrise Kingdom. The filmmaking is excellent on all levels, performances are great with Phoenix and Hoffman guaranteed to get Oscar nominations, and this is also a very challenging film which made me think and is very ambitious. Like I said this won’t work for several audiences. If you’re just looking to be entertained by a film than look elsewhere. But if you’re the type of cinema goer who loves to be challenged and made to think by a film then you owe it to yourself to see The Master.

Rating: A+

  1. Yeah, this was a great film PG, I’m glad you feel that way too. It will easily lose half the people who eventually “check it out” (those who rush to theatres to see it most likely know what theyre getting and will love it). It eschews traditional narrative. There’s barely any plot. And there are character arcs, but they’re tricky to pick up on.

    Who is the Master? ANDERSON is the Master. LOL

    • pgcooper1939 says:

      Lol, your Anderson comment is very true. And yeah, this movie is going to split audiences completely in half. I love it though, and I’m glad you dug it too. I read your review after seeing this.

      I think what’s going to happen is a lot of people are going to see the film for the buzz Phoenix and Hoffman are getting. As a result, we’re going to hear a lot of, “I like the acting, but the rest of the movie was dumb,” from a lot of casual cinema goers.

  2. ckckred says:

    I agree. The Master is a great film and so far my favorite this year. Anderson’s masterful direction and Joaquin Phoeniz’s haunting performance really made the film. Nice review.

  3. […] Wow, that’s a good question. As far as 2012 releases go, I personally loved The Master and HT didn’t. I know he respects and admires certain elements of the film, but on the whole […]

  4. […] PG Cooper’s Movie Reviews 2012 review  Dan the Man’s Movie Reviews 2012 review Cinematic Corner 2013 review […]

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