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Paul Thomas Anderson may be my favorite director of my generation. Yes, I’m including others like Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, Wes Anderson, and anyone else you want to bring up. He may not have a lot of movies under his belt, but quite honestly I’ve never been let down by any of his films. I even stole a large promotional poster of There Will Be Blood because I love his films so much. I bring all this up because I want you to know going into this review that my love for PTA may cause some bias. I won’t lie about anything, but I really do enjoy his films.
The Master takes place post-WWII, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Pheonix) is finding it incredibly hard to fit in with the rest of society (A task that isn’t helped by his inventive way of getting wasted all the time) and seems to be spiraling out of control. Quell’s life seems to be disheartening until he winds up on a boat that belongs to Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Dodd is interested in Quell, noting that he’s seen Quell before in his life, he’s just not sure where.
Joaquin Pheonix’ portrayal of Freddie Quell is powerful, there’s no question about that. I don’t know what Quell’s mental problem in the film is, I was thinking maybe he had Asperger’s Syndrome, or maybe he was just really affected by the war and has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or maybe he’s just a real jerk-not sure. As I said before this isn’t helped by how much he drinks. However, after Quell meets up with Dodd and begins to slowly try to change himself you can see the pain he goes through. He wants to fit in, but it’s in no way easy for him.
Unfortunately Freddie Quell does come off as somewhat of a jerk, and I could see why someone wouldn’t like the character. He can be incredibly crass and sometimes downright mean. This can be taken two ways, either you can hate the character and see him as nothing but a nuisance, or you can appreciate it much more to see the struggle that he goes through. I chose the latter, but I can understand why someone would just be turned off the character. To each their own.
Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the Lancaster Dodd role perfectly. He’s incredibly nice and charismatic for the majority of the film, but there are moments where he captures the entire attention of a room with a boost of his voice. Dodd’s character plays somewhat of a father figure to Quell. He’s constantly trying to better Quell as an individual, even when others around him have already given up on Quell, saying he’s nothing more than a lost cause.
Hoffman’s portrayal of Dodd is probably going to be the first performance of the year to really get Oscar buzz. (That’s not saying that Joaquin Pheonix doesn’t deserve recognition for his role.) I would be surprised if he was not at least nominated for an Academy Award.
While there are a lot of good actors with smaller roles in the film, Amy Adams probably sticks out the most. She plays Peggy Dodd, Lancaster’s wife. It may be that it was the intensity that she brought to her character, but she does steal some scenes that she’s in. One scene in question has her pressing Lancaster on how dangerous she feels Quell is. It’s funny, but it does get her point across.
Now, while the film does take inspiration from the early years of Scientology, it’s important to note that this film really isn’t about Scientology. Yes, that’s the backdrop, but the film really does feel like a character piece of a man who is going through a transitional period in his life. He finds a religion that accepts him and even tries to better him, that’s what the story is really about. (At least that’s what I think it’s about…)
Real quick, I want to give admiration to Jonny Greenwood and Mihai Malaimare Jr. The cinematography in The Master is great and is worth watching just for how the scenes are set up. It’s just a really pretty film. The music from Jonny Greenwood is also very good, however it didn’t stick out as much as it did in There Will Be Blood.
While I enjoyed the film, I don’t feel that this is PTA’s magnum opus. The pace in this moviegoes at a slow to medium speed and never really leaves that pace. I know that can be a real problem for some movie goers, so it has that going against it. Besides that, I see no real problem with the film. It’s incredibly good, but not my favorite PTA film. It’s still worth a watch for any fan of PTA or anyone who enjoys a good story with great performances from all the principal actors.