September 30, 2012

Review: 'The Master'–ful Paul Thomas Anderson

The Master is an exercise in masterful filmmaking. Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson explores the ambition and destruction of powerful men in the context of America's post-war period. Its themes, characters, and construction is an elaborate, fascinating exploration of the human psyche and mind.

The parallels to There Will Be Blood are stark with dual towering performances by Joaquin Phoenix as a violently disturbed sailor turned drifter Freddie Quell and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the titular religious cult leader. I could not help but draw comparisons to Anderson's take on the romantic comedy in Punch-Drunk Love. There, Adam Sandler played a similarly disturbed romantic with a sweet but violent streak. Here, Freddie is much more lost and isolated. His flaws and seduction by "the master" lead towards a dangerous path.

Amy Adams is eerily scary in a against type performance where she shows a frightening dedication and insight into religious cultism. Her performance is a fitting contrast to both Phoenix and Hoffman's titanous characters. She more than holds her own, capturing how women fit into the movement of "The Cause".

The Master is a mesmerizing look at the leader/follower relationship and how seductive, dynamic personalities attract worship. The film as a whole is just as elusive, enigmatic, and confounding as Hoffman's Lancaster Dodd. Its narrative is difficult, messy, and aimless with a purpose, recreating the lost feeling men faced in the 1950s, returning from the burden of war. Everything works as a patient, slow burn, rich in character study.

The Master is timeless. Filmed in the gorgeous 70mm format, every frame drips with pure cinematic flourish. Its acting, direction, and production design are flawless. It is meant to be seen, thought about, and discussed endlessly. It is confusing, overwhelming, and yes, masterful.

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