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THE MASTER – Movie Review

Ever since the first teaser trailer was released, The Master has been my most anticipated movie of 2012.  Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s films are slow-building, character based, and unique, which is why many of his previous ones are some of my all-time favorites.  And while The Master isn’t quite as perfect as I wanted it to be, and is probably my least favorite of his to date, there is still a great deal to enjoy.

The film follows Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a mentally unstable, disturbed soldier who is struggling to find a job after World War II.  He stumbles onto a party boat where he meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the leader of The Cause, a religious cult that draws many similarities to Scientology.  However, the film’s attention is not so much drawn towards the religious aspect, as it is more focused on the two characters’ relationship, where Freddie falls more under Lancaster’s teachings.

The film is already gaining Oscar traction for the performances, and deservedly so.  Both Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman dive headfirst into their characters that are polar opposite.  Hoffman’s Lancaster is composed and charming, even if what he’s preaching is preposterous, while Phoenix’s Freddie is simply psychotic.  When these two get together in a room and have a conversation, it makes for some of the most compelling filmmaking I’ve seen all year.

Shot and projected on 70mm film, the visuals are gorgeous as well.  Whether it’s how a group of actors are arranged or a vast ocean landscape, the camera angles are one of a kind.  Shots like these take remarkable precision and craft, and show Anderson’s vision as a true technical genius.

The score by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, who also composed the score to Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, uses strings and percussion in a fittingly haunting way.  It’s atmospheric, untraditional, and is deserving of awards consideration.

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t fully work on a storytelling level.  Many points in the story are sporadic and feel like they don’t have a clear end goal for the film, which makes it difficult to completely get into.  There’s no real forward push to anything that happens, and while the film’s wandering pace might have been deliberate, I wasn’t always invested.  The film as a whole is more enjoyable to talk about than watch.

Overall, while it has many moments of brilliance and is technically on point, the film is a bit off as a cohesive, complete piece.  The Master is definitely not for everyone, and those who haven’t seen an Anderson film before should not start here.  However fans of his should go see it, if nothing else, to have a meaningful discussion afterwards.

FINAL RATING: 4/5

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