Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Masterful Lead Performances, But Not Enough to Be a Modern Classic: Our Review of "The Master" (2012)

Directed By: Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood)
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
Rating: R for sexual content, graphic nudity and language
Run Time: 2 hours, 17 minutes
Synopsis: After coming home from WWII in the Pacific, Freddie Quell (Phoenix) becomes a drifter, never quite holding on to a job and constantly staying drunk. One night he stumbles across an intellectual named Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman) who has created a faith-based organization called The Cause alongside his wife (Adams). Dodd makes Quell his right-hand man, but as The Cause grows, so does the tension between the two men.
Andrew: Hello readers! Last night Sarah and I hit the local multiplex to see one of this year’s most anticipated dramas – The Master, starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, this is his first film since 2007’s critically acclaimed There Will Be Blood, for which Daniel Day-Lewis won the Best Actor Oscar.
This movie is getting a lot of Oscar buzz for the three leads. Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a WWII vet who comes home from the Pacific and has no direction in life in addition to probably being crazy. Hoffman plays Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a group (Religion? Cult?) called The Cause, who comes across Freddie and takes him under his wing. And Adams plays Dodd’s doting wife who is much more than she appears at first.
Sarah, this is a film I’ve been looking forward to because the three leads. I was not a big fan of There Will Be Blood (I liked No Country For Old Men way better that year) and Boogie Nights is about the only P.T. Anderson film I would consider buying. I don’t know how you felt towards seeing this, but that we have, what are your thoughts on The Master?
Sarah: I wasn’t super excited for this movie to come out. It didn’t appeal to me, I didn’t think the trailer made much sense, so knowing what this movie was about you had to read up on it a bit beforehand. I don’t particularly like that, especially with wide releases like this. If it had only been a small, limited release film, I would have understood that. But this is a big movie and they want people to come see this in theatres, and I feel all they relied on for that was star power.
I didn’t have super-high expectations for The Master, partially because I’m not a big Joaquin Phoenix fan, but overall I did not like this movie. I will say that the acting was powerful and this movie will get multiple acting nominations at the Academy Awards this year. But I would say that’s where my enjoyment ended.
Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the titular master, Lancaster Dodd, in a role that is sure to garner him another Oscar nomination and probably a win.
A: What aspects of the film didn’t you like then?
S: Here’s a big thing I didn’t like: we have Freddie, a sex-addicted alcoholic just out of the war, and like many soldiers is trying to find his way back into society. He can’t find it because he’s really kind of mentally ill…and one night he drunkenly stumbles across this boat party being run by the Dodd’s for their daughter’s wedding. It turns out to be a cruise of sorts as they’re traveling from San Francisco to New York City through the Panama Canal; a very, very long boat ride, and they seem to make it in a couple of days when it should have been a couple of weeks.
So the relationships Freddie creates with these characters really start on the ship but when they get to New York he’s still as much a stranger to them as he was when he got on the ship, which shouldn’t be the case…
A: Ok, I understand what you mean by it seeming like they got from San Fran to New York really quick, but at the same time the film does show that a number of days did pass on the boat. So it’s possible that the movie just cut out days because they need to edit somewhere.
S: Well yeah, I understand that but it’s the end point of how they had spent all this time together on the boat and when they get to New York Freddie is still basically a stranger to them and is distrustful of them and kind of disliked by members of the family.
A: Well I think that’s part of his character and his psyche. Freddie is very much a loner and he’s so socially awkward that he didn’t LET anyone get close to him. Amy Adams’ character tried to make him part of the family by letting him sit at the family table during the morning-after-the-wedding breakfast and Freddie just didn’t do much with it.
So I understand where you’re coming from. For me, I didn’t love the movie. Again it’s like There Will Be Blood. Yes it’s technically proficient, wonderfully acted, beautifully directed, but it just didn’t do it for me. And a big part of that is…kind of in your vein…there’s no real narrative arc.
We meet Freddie at the end of the war, he comes home, finds Dodd after failing at multiple jobs over what appears to be a few years, and then it almost becomes a series of vignettes about certain moments in the relationship between Dodd and Freddie. Dodd is trying to heal Freddie, Freddie doesn’t feel he needs to be healed but at the same time is searching for…
S: Something else. He doesn’t know what he’s searching for.
A: Yes, and then like you kind of said the film jumps from section to section of their relationship. It starts with the boat, where I think the most important scene in the film happens and that’s the Processing scene.
Joaquin Phoenix is phenomenal as Freddie Quell, a WWII vet turned drifter who tries to find solace under the tutelage of Lancaster Dodd and his Cause.
S: Absolutely.
A: We’ll come back to that. Then you have them in New York City where the second most important scene happens, where someone openly questions Dodd about his religion and compares him to a cult leader. We see Dodd’s true colors there.
S: Then it jumps to Philly, to Phoenix, to Massachusetts and then London.
A: So it jumps around because it’s just parts of these characters’ lives. Then at the end it’s a question mark. It’s a question mark about whether or not The Cause did anything for Freddie at the end. I’m usually okay with a movie being ambiguous but for this particular film it felt like we were just watching these actors do an excellent acting job and not much more.
S: Agreed. I will say, there are a few scenes that stood out for me that I did like. Like a scene in Phoenix where Dodd has just debuted his new book about The Cause and one of his followers sits down to talk to him about the book and questions him because he changes a very important phrase in the Processing, and their theology really. What we were watching was a crack in this religion - this cult, really, because that’s what it seems to be. And it’s not only a crack in the followers but one that Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character saw as well.
It’s scenes like that that make me believe Hoffman will win another Oscar. He was just as lost as Quell, so they’re really two lost souls clinging to each other and it’s the definition of insanity to me. They keep trying to do the same things but get different results.
So I loved that. I also think this will get another Oscar nom for Amy Adams. I’m not sure she’ll win because there are some other actresses with strong films coming out, but I liked her job here.
A: I agree with you on Hoffman. I think if they’re wise they’ll submit him in the Supporting Actor category where he should win in a landslide because he was fantastic. Particularly the scene where someone openly questions him about The Cause.
Amy Adams, what I liked was that her character is the actual brains behind the operation but she doesn’t show it on the outside. It’s only behind closed doors that we see her true power where it becomes very apparent.
S: That’s what I loved about her performance.
A: I wish they had gone more in-depth into her character, actually.
S: Yeah, because she is actually the master…
A: And you really see that in the final scene where all three players are together in the same room for the last time. So she’s fantastic.
Amy Adams (left) plays Peggy Dodd, the seemingly doting wife to Lancaster Dodd, but who is actually more than she appears.
But of course the main reason anyone should go see this movie is Joaquin Phoenix’s performance. He’s definitely going to get nominated for Best Actor and he’s probably the front-runner to win until someone can come knock him off. But he’s almost on the screen the entire movie, and he’s electric. He looks crazy…
S: He’s very much a method actor. Like hard-core method, because he became this truly despicable character. He might actually be crazy himself but yeah, he’s a little scary.
A: He is a little scary! The violent outbursts Freddie has from time to time…but I also liked that he only spoke out of one side of his mouth most of the time so that was interesting. And his laugh and gaunt look, but above all I think you have to go back to the best scene in the film when Dodd puts Freddie through The Process. Phenomenal.
S: A great scene.
A: Because it’s the two of them getting to know each other the most, but the way Anderson shot it and what Phoenix has to do in the shot, which is essential just one long take…it was mind-blowing to me. It was painful for me to watch. I was glad when it was over but at the same time I wanted that scene to keep going.
S: It definitely gives backstory to Quell and you get your best idea of where his character is coming from.
I felt that The Master is pretty interesting; I just didn’t like it very much.
A: Overall, I actually liked There Will Be Blood more.
S: I’ve never seen any of his other movies, so I really can’t compare.
A: I haven’t seen all of his, but I really like Boogie Nights and I still think it’s the best thing he’s done. I don’t think The Master will win Best Picture. I think it’ll get nominated for picture, screenplay, directing, cinematography, and music…Johnny Greenwood of the band Radiohead did the score for this film and There Will Be Blood. And I didn’t like the scores for either film. They did what they were supposed to do and made me uneasy…
S: It made me VERY uneasy, plus it kind of showed another side of Quell’s instability.
A: But at the same time, I didn’t like it. One last thing: for all the talk about how this movie is a veiled reference to L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, I didn’t think about that for one second while watching this.
S: Same here! Ok, so what are our final thoughts? Purely based on the proficiency of the movie, I’ll give it a higher mark than I thought I would, especially thanks to the acting.
A: Not one we’ll own someday, I’m glad we saw it in theatres, but unless you’re into high-brow movies or the Oscars, I don’t think is one you need to see in theatres. It’s a good Saturday afternoon film but otherwise I’d Netflix it.
FINAL VERDICT: A good way to kill a Saturday afternoon!
(Out of Five clapboards)

Photo Courtesies: Collider, The Telegraph, ABC News, Cineplex

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