By Matthew Dougherty Staff Writer
Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest is a striking examination of the different forms of insanity that leaves you questioning who is right or wrong, scene after scene after scene.
After a slow start (the first 20 minutes didn’t quite do it for me), “The Master” quickly turns itself into a gripping drama that you won’t be able to take your eyes off of. Yes, the film runs a bit too long, but the payoff of the climax is absolutely worth the wait. Featuring career performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Thomas Anderson has easily constructed one of the best films of the year.
The plot deals with a man (who clearly has some screws loose) being brought into a cult by a mysterious man. What first appears as a good thing for this disturbed individual turns into a situation neither men wanted to be in. The film quickly becomes a question of which man is more insane.
Aside from the first twenty minutes, the story evolves on screen flawlessly. Just when you become comfortable with the events unfolding before you, they quickly change. The film is exciting in a way that only Paul Thomas Anderson could execute.
The reason the first 20 minutes didn’t quite work for me was because Seymour Hoffman’s character, Lancaster Dodd, hadn’t entered the picture. The absolute best thing about “The Master” is the chemistry between the two male leads. Phoenix plays a disturbed WWII soldier implied to be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He alone does a fantastic job, but his scenes with Seymour Hoffman are just so charged. His father-figure relationship with Freddie Quell (Phoenix) is beautifully captured on screen. My guess as of right now is that the Best Supporting Actor Oscar will be going to Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
Amy Adams plays Dodd’s wife in a memorable, but not too spectacular, performance. She was far better in “The Fighter.”
With “The Master,” Anderson proves that he is a master of his craft (pun absolutely intended). The cinematography and overall aesthetic is as gorgeous as it is foreboding.
Who cares if it runs a bit too long? You won’t want to miss this amazing film. Its ideas are fascinating (many will see the similarities with the controversial Scientology movement). The acting is nothing short of magnificent. The story is one of the best of the year. “The Master” is top-notch cinema and I expect it to be a major contender come awards season.