I started doing movie reviews so I could get free access to movies…but also to become an approved critic on Rotten Tomatoes. I have a long way to go.
Online publications must achieve and maintain a minimum 500,000 unique monthly visitors according to comScore, Inc or Nielsen Net Ratings and reviews must have an average length of at least 300 words. Publications must also show a consistent standard of professionalism, writing quality, and editorial integrity across all reviews and articles. Lastly, site design and layout should also reflect a reasonable level of quality and must have a domain name specific to the property.
I also need to have at least 100 reviews under my belt. I am well on my way to 100 reviews, my average length of reviews is above average, and I would say I have the highest quality reviews on this site. However, getting to 500,000 unique monthly visitors will be a task. So, I challenge all of you to do this. Send a message/text/tweet to everyone in your contacts list with “God’s Not Dead” and a link to BoozeAndOtherNonsense.com
Together we can make my dreams come true. Now, to the review.
I was afraid to review a movie by Paul Thomas Anderson. In my opinion he is the best film maker currently working. He always maximizes the potential of the talent he is working with. He also alternates between original stories and film adaptations of novels. After hearing the news that PTA is working on a new movie with Daniel Day Lewis, I knew I had to review a film of his. I could have done There Will Be Blood…but instead I want to review a movie I haven’t seen in a while. So that leads me to 2012’s The Master.
The Master stars the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd, the L. Ron Hubbard of his culty religion “The Cause”. Joaquin Phoenix makes his return to film after taking a hiatus of sorts. His last movie was 2008’s Two Lovers, though he did make the weird documentary about himself in 2010 titled I’m Still Here. Anyway, he is Freddie Quell, a WW2 veteran with PTSD, alcoholism, and a bit of a temper. Amy Adams is Peggy Dodd, The Master’s life partner. It also features some other notable people, like Laura Dern (Rambling Rose, Wild, Jurassic Park), Rami Malek (Mr. Robot, Until Dawn, Night at the Museum), and Jesse Plemmons (Breaking Bad, Fargo, Black Mass)
As an auteur, Paul Thomas Anderson is the director, producer, and writer of this film. However several of the other producers have worked with PTA on prior films. One of the editors of the film, Leslie Jones, also worked with PTA on Punch-Drunk-Love and Inherent Vice. However, much of the staff was working with PTA for the first time, unlike for There Will Be Blood where the editors, cinematographer, and producers all had worked with him on prior projects. However, Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead fame returns to score another PTA film. I will say that Greenwood’s score is probably the best thing about this movie, and that is not meant to diminish the rest of the film.
This film has several themes within it, but largely revolves around the duality of man as both being civilized and being an animal. With Dodd representing the former, Freddie the latter. This theme is emphasized in almost every scene in the movie. We see Freddie’s life as being tumultuous and lonely, while Dodd’s is far more secure and based around family. We have many scenes where we see the calmness of Dodd contrasted with the wildness of Freddie.
However, we are reminded that these two are closer than they seem. Both are rather nomadic in their lifestyle, and also for similar reasons. Freddie lives his life going from place to place, usually running because he did something bad (someone died from drinking too much of his booze). Dodd goes from place to place, traveling the country and the world, fleeing those who are persecuting him. While Freddie is always running away from his past, he encounters Dodd who has a philosophy of embracing our past and understanding it. These are the major conflicts and driving forces for these characters.
The Master is a film that is made up of many great scenes and great shots, with outstanding performances by its cast. There are many scenes in the film where you just see Freddie and Dodd in a room, and it is pure magic. The above shot where Freddie breaks a toilet with his foot inside of the jail cell is a great example. He was instructed to be his character, an animal, and the result was him thrashing about and burning out. Dodd stands still, composed, trying his best to bring Freddie back to being human.
There is another scene, earlier in the film, where Dodd is auditing Freddie. The instruction is to not blink while answering the questions, or else they start over. Well, PTA places two cameras and films this in one shot because he is a master of his craft (pun intended). The result is perfection, with the unexpected benefit of a vein that begins forming on Phoenix’s forehead as he struggles to keep his eyes open. An image of this is below, but I recommend also just finding this scene on youtube and watching it.
Now, this is also one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last films, which makes me tear up as I write this. He is an actor who was in his peak, and worked on many films with PTA. I can’t help but think of the work he could have done in the future. Hoffman’s last decade of his life saw him win the Academy Award for best actor in Capote, and nominated three times for best supporting actor in Charlie Wilson’s War, Doubt, and The Master. He was able to be funny (Along Came Polly, Twister, Lebowski), he could be a leading man (Capote, Synechdoche, New York, A Most Wanted Man), and he could be a side character (Moneyball, Ides of March, Hunger Games). The man was a pure talent who elevated every movie he was a part of. Don’t do heroin folks, it’s not worth it.
Now while this movie has a lot going for it, its not perfect. The movie has amazing shots and scenes, and the themes are well represented in both the acting and the staging of the film…but at times the film can seem disjointed. While it mostly follows a linear plot line, there are flashbacks which sortof derail the momentum which impacts the pacing of the film. Meanwhile there are some things which make me wonder whether, in the film, the religion is true, and whether magic is real. For example, Freddie dreams that Dodd calls him which brings Freddie to England where they can discuss what they said in the dream. Is that a coincidence? Can Dodd do this in the reality of the movie? This lends itself more to the comparisons of The Cause (the religion in the film) and the origins of Scientology.
If you liked other PTA films, you understand some of the downfalls. Is The Master a movie that runs too long, slows down as you go, and has a weird ending that involves a confrontation of characters and singing? I might agree with that to an extent, but it doesn’t spoil the movie to me due to the strength of the film as a whole.
To re-emphasize something I mentioned earlier, the music is fantastic and compliments the movie perfectly. The opening of the movie is an excellent example, where the music plays off of the natural sounds being produced in the scene. Not only does the original music work beautifully with the film, but the songs included in the film do as well. From “Get Thee Behind Me Satan” by Ella Fitzgerald, to “Changing Partners” by Helen Forrest, its breathtaking. This is definitely a movie that you could watch and just focus on the music.
Overall, this film is another masterpiece by Paul Thomas Anderson, right up there with Magnolia and There Will Be Blood. The performances are spectacular, the staging and cinematography is stellar, and the music is beautiful. However, the film can be a bit slow at times and possibly asserts magic exists. Still, I will watch this movie whenever I get the chance and always notice something new while I do it.
92/100. I would recommend this movie to anyone that appreciates good cinema.
In the film they establish that most of it takes place in 1958 and onward. However they say that the second conference of The Cause will take place in 1950, I think they meant 1960…
Hoffman was sober from alcohol for 23 years before this movie took place, he relapsed at the after party. This probably contributed to his eventual relapse and overdose on heroin….
Phoenix improvised several of his lines and his actions, from his first line in the film to the window scene.
Previously: Left Behind (a 9/11 special)
Next: God’s Not Dead 2