One statement I don’t think I’m ever going to have to say is, “That new Paul Thomas Anderson movie sucked.” I just don’t think he has it in his genes to make anything less than spectacular. I guess you guys all know where this review is headed now. Yes. The Master was a great movie and definitely a contender for multiple Academy Awards, hopefully even to win Best Picture.
Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) has survived World War II, but not entirely. During the war, he became an alcoholic, and even went so far as mixing poisonous chemicals into his drinks. With the war over, he can’t seem to find a job due to his violent outbursts and manic tendencies. After scuttling a yacht during a party, he meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the leader of a group called The Cause. Dodd immediately sees potential for experimentation with Quell and aides him in beating his addictions and behavior. But is he helping Quell or himself? Does he really mean what he says?
First things first. If Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t win an Oscar for his performance, I will get out of town, jump in a lake, and swim myself into oblivion. Wow, that’s weird, but that’s the equivalent of how I’d feel. I never got the feeling that I was watching Joaquin Phoenix. I felt like I was watching the life of Freddie Quell unfold before my very eyes. He was absolutely fantastic. I’d say it’s not just the best performances of the year, but one of the best performances of all time.
The genius of this movie is the way the story presents itself. There isn’t a huge dramatic climax that completely changes the direction of the story. Besides a couple scenes, many of the dramatic beats are very subtle and down to earth. That’s the best way to describe the movie. Down to earth. As a viewer, I felt like I wasn’t watching a conventional narrative, but more just a chronicling of a point in this man’s life. It’s never hard to believe or far fetched, which goes hand in hand with the subtlety of the entire thing. This proves that a movie doesn’t have to be loud or in your face to be intense.
Speaking of, this was a very intense film. Hoffman and Amy Adams play their roles to the best of their abilities and it shows. Hoffman seems like he could start a real movement if he wanted to, and Adams is a quiet storm of boiling anger. The set design and costuming are also very authentic without being extravagant. To top it all off, Johnny Greenwood’s soundtrack thumps and screeches in the background like a lurking malevolent force. Anyone who has seen There Will be Blood knows that Greenwood has this strange way of making off tempo music work perfectly in a scene.
The Master is a phenomenal work of artistic fiction that I think is destined to become a classic that’s studied for years to come. It is packed with controversial thematic material that is bound to spark heated discussion. It’s intense, expertly made, and at the risk of being corny, proves that Paul Thomas Anderson is a master at his craft.