The Master

The Master ★★★★

Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master is the director's second worst film (of those I have seen - I'll be watching Boogie Nights soon). It is not quite the near-perfect masterpiece I thought it was on first viewing, though I still knew I'd have to see it again to know for sure what I thought.

Joaquin Phoenix's performance as Freddie Quell, the damaged World War II veteran who is taken under the wing of charismatic cult leader, Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman in arguably his best performance), is much more 'human' than I thought it was the first time. By the end of the film, Freddie is ready to let people in, and Phoenix conveys this perfectly. It's a much more hopeful ending than I realised. Throughout the film, we can see the dark places that Freddie is going inside his head, and all this is down to Phoenix, who gives a performance to rival that of Daniel Day-Lewis' in There Will Be Blood. He is physically contorted from the start, and in his face we can see all the pain that he's experienced, even when he's trying so desperately to shut it away.

Anderson's depiction of 1950s America is surprisingly realistic; a lot of films shove the setting your face, but with The Master, it feels as though we are actually looking at the 1950s. It's just like society today.

Hoffman is, of course, fantastic, as is Amy Adams as his slightly domineering wife. Mihai Mãlaimare Jr.'s cinematography is beautiful, and Jonny Greenwood's score brilliantly sets the tone of the film. Anderson's direction and writing are masterful, though it does seem, as with There Will Be Blood - but moreso - that he runs out of steam towards the end. The plot, if you can call it that, begins to wander further and further, even for a character study. But this is an ambitious film, and a director's reach exceeding his grasp is no bad thing. Other than that, there isn't much more to complain about, other than the admittedly amusing though perhaps unnecessary fart gags and the fact that it is quite a pretentious film - though much of this is to do with Dodd.

Though The Master is flawed, it is still a magnificent achievement; thought-provoking, electric, extraordinary.

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