The Master

The Master ★★★★½

The December Project: Film #29

There's a scene in Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch Drunk Love where two men scream down the phone at one another, amusingly spouting swear words with admirably venomous zeal. It's inherently funny, yet it's too the starting point of a sequence that makes me positively ill to watch, so exquisitely tense is the combination of its score and editorial rhythm. The Master is a bit like that sequence expanded to a little over two hours, the musical contribution of Johnny Greenwood here a constantly oppressive companion making consistently discomforting the viewing experience as Anderson's camerawork—through virtuoso extended takes—makes palpable the animalistic mania of his central character's mind. Joaquin Phoenix has never been better, but then nor has anyone else: he gives here one of the most extraordinary performances my memory can call to mind, imbuing an already extremely complex character with such multifarious nuance as to make him perfectly suited to be the allegorical representation of all humanity as per Anderson's intent. That duty is shared, of course, by the character of Philip Seymour Hoffman, also enacted with immeasurable skill and interminable intensity. They manage between them some of the most remarkable scenes of this (or indeed any) year, the exceptional performances playing off each other to form a whole far more than the sum of its parts. When I say that Anderson's direction can easily match that whole, then, you must surely understand the scope of his achievement. The Master is a bravado work of cinema pure and simple, unbridled talent in all departments allowed to congeal to one astounding movie as wowing in its totality as in the brilliance of each individual cast and crew member. I adored it not for its comprehensive analysis of its characters, but for its comprehensive analysis of me, and of you, and of all mankind. Anderson hasn't just mastered cinema, he's mastered human nature too. Give yourself to him: you're far safer in his hands than even in your own.