Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Jesse Plemons, Laura Dern, Rami Malek
Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
For me, Paul Thomas Anderson can sometimes bounce around for me in terms of quality. I wasn’t a huge fan of There Will Be Blood, outside of the fantastic performances by Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano. I thought Punch Drunk Love was a mess. Magnolia had strengths and weaknesses, uneven throughout. Boogie Nights is probably his best effort, for me. The Master would be my second choice.
At first, The Master starts off as a rather directionless tale of a directionless soldier, Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix). It seems as though the film never gets on its feet really until Freddie meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a man who seems to give him the promise of purpose. Lancaster could be seen as crazy by many, and a possible cult leader, but he offers the potentially insane Freddie a path to a normal life, with some balance. Lancaster is supported by his wife, Peggy, and a rather large extended family who already buy into what he has to sell.
Over the course of the film, you’re supposed to feel a parallel to scientology being drawn. I get that. However, I think what is strongest about this film is the relationship between Lancaster and Freddie. A man with no purpose, who seems to be diving into madness, is pulled back into reality by Lancaster. Whether Lancaster’s ideas are right or wrong, and will likely sound insane to most viewers, he somehow manages to control the uncontrollable. For his part, Phoenix is incredibly compelling playing a dangerously unhinged man. For some, it would seem Phoenix is just playing himself, but really this role is just quite perfect for Phoenix. It allows him to do what he does best. Hoffman is always great in intellectual parts, and this part allows him to just spew knowledge throughout the entire script.
It will take you a little bit to really get into the groove of the film, but don’t give up on it. It ends up a rewarding film, if for no other reason than the performances by Phoenix and Hoffman. Amy Adams is OK, but her part just isn’t showy enough to really resonate. I’m surprised she managed a supporting actress nomination from it. It goes to show how much love the Academy really has for her.
FINAL GRADE: B-