Title: The Master
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson has articulated some remarkable onscreen stories (Boogie Nights, There Will be Blood). Some of his subject matters may come across as trivial, random, or just plain negligible. But he’s consistently been able to methodically rope you in and care about the outcome.
Knowing that tidbit, after quietly taking in all 137 minutes of his latest work, The Master, yours truly probably stopped caring about this well-acted ramble, somewhere around the 70 minute mark.
The acting of the two leads is the only element that will keep one engaged in what is essentially a tiresome cult saga. Joaquin Phoenix is a World War II Naval veteran in 1950 America. The guy is basically a loner who just so happens to have a knack for crafting alcoholic drinks out of seemingly any liquid (paint thinner, aftershave, automobile fluids, etc.). His concoctions are so potent, yet surprisingly tasty, that he stumbles through post-war life, taking odd-jobs and landing in random places.
During one his alcoholic-hazed jaunts, he sneaks aboard a yacht and is greeted by a man (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who all the passengers fawn over. Known as, “The Master,” the well-spoken intellectual gentleman takes Phoenix under-his-wing and subjects him to “processing (more-or-less psychological exercises and questions)” as he makes his way through Northeast cities (New York and Philadelphia). Since Phoenix really doesn’t have any direction in life, he sticks with Master and the two become fascinated with each other.
All this amounts to be is an attempt at a high-brow cult flick, which will obviously draw comparisons to alternative practices such as scientology. So while the story is numbing, and fairly pointless, the riveting conversations between Hoffman and Phoenix are worth testing one’s tolerance. And the way the filmmakers artistically shot this (using 65mm film – then printed on 70mm) provides a refreshing view point from the usual cinematic norm.
Another interesting technical aspect is how PTA will linger on a scene even though it has clearly made its point. Well, that technique is interesting early on, but eventually becomes annoying and tedious, as its purpose and/or use is not really relevant; for it just seems as if the screenplay is on a loop after the halfway point.
Then there’s the vagueness revolving around how Seymour’s character came to be. Granted, you can make your own assumptions, and that may have been the point…yet you just won’t care.
Still, and this can’t be overstated (obviously), Phoenix and Hoffman are doing some impeccable acting here. The balance of traits that Phoenix enacts in his portrayal becomes the only intriguing aspect one will find in this flick. He also provides some subtle chuckles with what can be described as Adam Sandler-like outburst (think Big Daddy-like; yet more unhinged and refined).
Overall, The Master, despite its well-executed physical look, is just like any other cult product out there: Great acting, intriguing concept/angle early on, and unfulfilling final act.