Looking at WNY’s visual art, theater, music, and dance scenes.
Sep 21, 2012
08:20 AMTalk about Arts
Movie Review: The Master
Films opening this weekend in Buffalo:
2 Days in New York - North Park Dipson
Dredd - Maple Ridge; Flix Dipson; Elmwood, Transit, Galleria, Hollywood, Quaker Regals
End of Watch - Maple Ridge; Flix & Market Arcade Dipson; Elmwood, Transit, Galleria, Hollywood, Quaker Regals
House at the End of the Street - Maple Ridge; Flix & Market Arcade Dipson; Elmwood, Transit, Galleria, Hollywood, Quaker Regals; Transit Drive-In
The Master - Amherst, Eastern Hills Dipson; Quaker Regal
Trouble with the Curve - Maple Ridge; Flix & Market Arcade Dipson; Elmwood, Transit, Galleria, Hollywood, Quaker Regals - REVIEW
Unconditional Love - Transit, Elmwood Regals
There really is no one making movies quite like Paul Thomas Anderson these days. His film releases have become major events with both arthouse and mainstream theatre patrons clamoring for tickets. The work isn't always perfect—or may not appear so without subsequent viewings—but even his biggest detractors cannot deny the level of expertise and precision taken in each frame. His characters captivate, inspire, and destroy you at the same time.
Set mainly in post-World War II America, The Master brings us a tale about vulnerability and those willing to feed off it, and of mental instability and mankind's perceptions. In times of uncertainty, people floating adrift reach out to latch onto something to help show them the way. We look for a community to join and a leader with which to follow and tell us our next move. Lost in a world ravaged by the horrors of the Holocaust from a far, Pearl Harbor at home, and the thousands dead to ensure our freedom, peace becomes a hard concept to accept when war had been such an indelible part of our lives. It was the perfect time for men like Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to strike.
But Anderson isn't interested in overtly telling us the tale of this scientist/philosopher/writer/man or his religion The Cause or L. Ron Hubbard and his Church of Scientology for which it is based. No, he knows we are aware of powerful men enlisting the fragile to join them. We understand how cults work and their inability to engage in constructive discourse or defend themselves when questioned about their validity. It therefore becomes the film's aim to tell the tale of a troubled naval veteran returned home without purpose, normalcy, or a future.
For Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), The Cause is a chance to be part of something big again—a movement sweeping the nation and saving humanity from itself. Not only is Dodd taking Freddie in to perform a series of processing exercises that may heal him of harmful indoctrinations from previous lives, but the Master is also giving him the chance to replace a skeptical son (Jesse Plemons) by his side. Malleable, emotional, and loyal to a fault, Freddie finds himself falling into the black hole of empty promises and halfcocked ideologies, loving the fact he once more has a specific cause and an easily identifiable enemy.
Anderson infuses this brave new world with the devout (Laura Dern's glazed-eyed follower), the unsure (Quell), and the antagonizing force looking to shut Dodd's machine down (the Philadelphia police for one). We have the matriarchal figure so invested in the religion that she will look past her husband and leader's indiscretions (Amy Adams' Peggy) and the mindless children unable to delineate between love of a father and that of a book. These characters are regular people with faith and the desire to give it to a man possessed with flowery rhetoric.
And that's what makes Phoenix's Freddie the perfect man to infiltrate and uncover the secretive life of this cult for us. He is the prime candidate for recruitment and yet behind his need for inclusion rests skepticism he can't quite articulate at first. Afraid to go home and rekindle a relationship with the girl he thought his future would contain, working alongside Dodd becomes more gratifying than odd jobs difficult to keep for longer than his temper allows. An animal at heart with a short fuse only exacerbated by the homemade moonshine he concocts out of paint thinner and other poisonous liquids, Freddie's salvation is in Dodd's hands.
Both Phoenix and Hoffman give powerhouse performances that may have you forgetting how flawlessly constructed the plot is at their back. Pair them with technical astonishments (a wonderful pan behind Phoenix as he walks to a pier with Hoffman and Adams seen dancing on a boat in the distance) and head-scratching boldness (a delusion of naked women singing and dancing through Quell's eyes) and The Master truly becomes a daring feat that may even surpass the director's last, There Will Be Blood.
10/10 | ★ ★ ★ ★