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The Master

The Master

Released 16 November 2012
Director Paul Thomas Anderson

Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Laura Dern, Jesse Plemons, Ambyr Childers
Writer(s) Paul Thomas Anderson

Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Ellison, Daniel Lupi, Joanne Sellar
Origin United States
Running Time 137 minutes
Genre Drama
Rating 16

Master of puppets.

I'll get straight to the point before I elaborate further – The Master is up there in the category of the worst films I have ever had the displeasure of seeing. Right, now that's off my chest, let's discuss. With hard-hitting successful dramas like Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will be Blood to his credit, Paul Thomas Anderson has established himself as one of the most sought after screenwriters and directors of modern feature film. So when his new project, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, was previewed at a recent press screening there was an air of expectation, excitement and eagerness as to what would transpire. If there was a buzz beforehand, there was a collective squirming of seats halfway through, while by the end the realisation dawned on many that more than two hours of life had just been robbed because of a pretentious, pompous and egotistical movie that, ironically or not, has Oscar nominations written all over it.

World War II has not long ended and Freddy Quell, played by Phoenix, is enjoying his newfound freedom from the Navy. In the first act of the film, there is hope and the promise of prosperity – highlighted by the superb cinematography that shows America in all its glory as the land of liberty and capitalism. However, after securing a new job Freddy soon goes off the rails as his aggression and sex addiction, fuelled by homemade toxic hooch, overwhelms his capacity to think clearly and promises to ruin his life. That is until he meets Lancaster Dodd, an egotistical dignitary portrayed in particularly smarmy fashion by Hoffman. Dodd, by his own submission, is a “doctor, writer and theoretical philosopher” and his company is adored by those who are lucky enough to lavish in it. Lancaster is the leader of a cult called The Cause (evidently based heavily on L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology) and his mission is to realise human potential, taking on a willing Freddy as his special subject.

Now, you might expect this to actually go somewhere but I've basically summarised the first half of the movie to leave the rest up to your viewing pleasure. The only problem is, nothing of particular note happens in the second half of The Master, apart from slowly - very slowly - becoming a little darker and always more obvious. Instead, a series of pointless scenes are strung together to showcase two actors performing to the height of their abilities, but with absolutely no relevance to any coherent, meaningful story. What is the message here? Answer: There is none. If Lancaster's power over Freddy had developed, or if the latter had escaped from the obtrusive manhandling of the former's cult, perhaps a resonating conclusion could have been reached. But there is none.

It is almost insulting to think that a film this big, which will earn so much money and be credited (probably) with so many awards, is essentially a vanity project for the director and its stars with only a whimsical care given towards the general audience. Only for the intense individual acting, which taken on its own merit is at times compelling, The Master is nearly deserving of a zero.

- David Caulfield