*** (out of 5)
September 14, 2012
Joaquin Phoenix as FREDDIE QUELL
Phillip Seymour Hoffman as LANCASTER DODD
Amy Adams as PEGGY DODD
Jesse Plemons as VAL DODD
Rami Malek as CLARK
Laura Dern as HELEN SULLIVAN
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Calm down, people. “The Master” is a perfectly fine movie. But it’s not the beginning and end of cinema. It’s cool that the art-house crowd is wetting their pants over this movie, and I can’t disparage anyone for loving a movie, no matter what the quality is (because, let’s face it, we’re all entitled to intense love for any movie, either good or bad).
But, no pun intended, this isn’t a religious experience.
In case you haven’t heard, “The Master” is the latest film from Paul Thomas Anderson, who most recently directed the Oscar-nominated “There Will Be Blood.” Like his more recent run of films, “The Master” is a deliberately-paced, slow-burn character study that is more about the actors and performances than it is about plot and story.
That story, as secondary as it is, follows Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) as his life spirals out of control in the years following World War II. Obsessed with sex and drinking, Quell makes his way erratically through life, struggling to hold onto a job. One day in 1950, he stumbles into a cult and meets Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), the charismatic leader of this Scientology-inspired cult. Over the next years, Freddie and Lancaster (affectionately called “the Master” by his flock) form an unlikely friendship.
I’ve heard quite a few people refer to “The Master” as “the Scientology movie,” though that’s not entirely accurate. While playing a reflection of Scientology, the movie is not an exposé of the religion, nor is it even a slight examination of it. Unlike “The Social Network,” which was as much “the Facebook movie” as it was a character study of Mark Zuckerberg, “The Master” is about the relationship – a non-romantic love story, if you will – of these two characters.
The focus of the film is the performances, and we get some fantastic ones from Phoenix and Hoffman, as well as Amy Adams who shocks at times as Dodd’s creepily young wife (though she and Hoffman are only seven years apart in age). They are the performances that we’re going to see tossed around come award season, along with possible nods for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Cinematography (though I don’t think it necessarily deserves any of those, but no one in the Academy ever asks me about that sort of nonsense).
“The Master” is a non-traditional film that doesn’t quite exist in the mainstream. Sure, you can understand the film if you see it, and it’s not as out there as something like “The Tree of Life,” but it’s not your standard plot-driven story. It’s worth checking out for the buzz surrounding it, as well as the great performances, but don’t be surprised if it appears to go off the rails at times.
While people are cheering for this film as P.T. Anderson’s masterpiece, I disagree. It’s the first in what is going to be a long line of award films that I see every year which I eventually give a positive review to but still end up just shrugging my shoulders and saying, “Eh, it was okay.”
Catch it early before the cinemas get bogged down with weepy, art-house films. It’s more interesting to watch in a vacuum.