The Master

The Master ★★★★½

I went in to watch THE MASTER, fully expecting to be a bit disappointed. My first viewing experience of THERE WILL BE BLOOD was a slightly underwhelming one because it hadn't lived up to my extraordinarily high expectations. Of course, upon second viewing I finally saw it for the masterpiece it is.

After 20 minutes or so of THE MASTER, I was thinking to myself, "This is incredible. This isn't a 'second-watcher' at all." By the end, I had realised that I was completely wrong. I will ABSOLUTELY have to watch the film again at some point before I can write anything close to a coherent and worthy review...

But screw it.

Joaquin Phoenix (in a performance that probably should've won the Oscar) plays a traumatised, sex-obsessed Word War II veteran called Freddie Quell, whose path crosses with that of Lancaster Dodd (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, in a performance that, again, probably should've won the Oscar), the eccentric, charismatic, egotistical leader of a philosophical movement known as 'The Cause'. Freddie, having been taken in by Dodd's charm, subsequently follows him along the east coast, spreading the word and teachings of 'The Cause'.

The first 20 minutes or so are simply spell-binding, and are guaranteed to hook you. In these opening scenes we watch Freddie as he fails to adjust to life after the war (though, in fairness, he probably wasn't trying to). Words alone can't describe just how utterly, utterly incredible Phoenix's performance is (saying that it's just as good as Daniel Day-Lewis' in THERE WILL BE BLOOD is a start), or how beautiful the cinematography is. Paul Thomas Anderson is a undoubtedly a master (ha!) of his craft.

This film is probably more accessible than TWBB (just), and there was a stage early on when I actually thought it was better. I can't say that I maintain that opinion, and of course I'll only know for sure when I re-watch it. The star-rating was floating between 4 and 5; I knew it wasn't quite perfect, but I can't say I know exactly why it isn't. In the end I've settled for halfway, with a rating I reserve for 'near-perfect' films - whatever that means.

When I left the screening at my local film society with my equally baffled friend, we answered the feedback sheets (both positive) and saw that a fellow society member had written "pretentious crap" in the comments box of their sheet. There was, now I remember, also a walk-out. While I disagree with the above statement, there is certainly evidence to suggest such a thing. It's most definitely a polarising and divisive film.

THE MASTER will confuse and intrigue you, entice and possibly repel, infuriate and shock you, but there's no doubt it's a fine piece of work. And if you need any more proof that Paul Thomas Anderson is probably the best film-maker working today (and I highly doubt that you do), look no further than this...

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