Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Dern
Running Time: 144 minutes
Extras: Back Beyond: Outakes, Additional Scenes, Unguided Message: Behind The Scenes, Teasers/Trailers, ‘Let There Be Light’ (1946) by John Huston
Character-driven-drama are three words to send you into a frenzy of excitement, or running for cover. Flouting (or possibly embracing) this risk Paul Thomas Anderson has made arguably the least accessible mainstream movie of all time with THE MASTER – but that may not be a bad thing.
Beginning with an unhinged and contorted Freddie (Phoenix), leaving war and merging into domestic life as a department store photographer, the story explores his social troubles and heavy drinking. Magnificently shot the opening sets the tone for the film but worryingly writes itself into a corner. By laying out Freddie’s troubles and introducing us to Lancaster (Hoffman) and Peggy (Adams) Dodd who welcome Freddie into their ‘community of followers’, there is only one path the story can take. The tedious comparison to Scientology is sadly unavoidable and in truth justified as Dodd is soon making spurious claims as pertains his methodology and books.
Paul Thomas Anderson is one of Hollywood’s most fascinating filmmakers; challenging the viewer with tepid pacing, deep characters and fascinating stories. THE MASTER on the surface appears to be his first mis-step: long, languid and vapid the film would be forgettable were it not for the middle act. As Freddie becomes ingrained in Lancaster’s methods and begins to right the wrongs of his life Anderson’s script, Johnny Greenwood’s score and the incredible performances meet to create an hour of beauty, intrigue and tension. The troubled beginning is forgotten, it all works, well, until the final act. Anderson has previous with third acts: MAGNOLIA’s brilliance is moderately tainted by a very peculiar sequence, and BOOGIE NIGHTS climax (pun intended) feels rushed. Sadly THE MASTER’s finale suffers a similar fate. There is a message included, but the methodology behind transmitting this is far too drawn out. It appears Anderson feels the need for an antagonist, but it doesn’t ring true.
THE MASTER will have its fans who will go giddy for the direction, cinematography and acting, but more will be non-plussed by Anderson’s study of cult. Challenging, beautiful and grand it may be, but it’s also a little silly.
Extras: Amidst some dull deleted scenes, an odd behind the scenes and the standard trailers is ‘Let There Be Light’ John Huston’s fantastic hour-long documentary looking at WWII veterans.