Movie Review: The Master (2012)

Posted: May 19, 2013 in Drama
Tags: , ,

the master

 

Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is in the Navy during World War II.  After the war ends, he drifts aimlessly from experience to experience.  Freddie works as a photographer in a department store but gets fired for getting into a fight with a customer.  Freddie then finds himself picking cabbages and making his own liquor with Filipino migrant workers.  The workers chase Freddie off for trying to poison one of the workers.  Tired from running and drunk, Freddie stows away on a ship called The Alethia, where he meets Lancaster Dodd  (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) Mr. Dodd seems to have discovered some universal truths that he wishes to impart upon young Freddie. Dodd also seems interested in Freddie because of his ability to mix drinks.

Dodd begins a series of mind control exercises with Freddie,  called processing and by the time Freddie and Dodd get to a party in New York, Freddie is Dodd’s unquestioning disciple of Dodd’s group called The Cause.  When a man called John More (Christian Even Welch) dares to question Dodd’s teachings which seems like nothing more than hypnosis, and speculation about past lives, Freddie and Dodd’s daughter’s boyfriend, Clark, (Rami Malek) unleash a beating on More that silences him as a critic.  Dodd and his followers move to Philadelphia, where Dodd is arrested for practicing medicine without a license, and Freddie is arrested for assaulting the policemen who arrest Dodd.   In jail, Dodd and Freddie get into a raucous shouting match and Dodd’s older daughter, Peggy (Amy Adams) is instantly suspicious of Freddie’s intentions.  Is Freddie ready to leave his life in The Cause behind?  Or is he trading one addiction, alcoholism for another, The Cause.

The Master is clearly a critique of cults, specifically Scientology.  It is at its most intriguing when illustrating how a follower is programmed.  Freddie is stripped of his individuality, by a series of increasingly probing questions and repetitive exercises. Freddie is made to believe that only Dodd can save him from his self-destructive habits.  There is a confrontation building, but then the movie inexplicably moves away from the collision course promisingly laid out in the first half of the movie and wanders aimlessly through a series of events, in other words the movie behaves much like its main character, I blame writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson for not taking the subject head on.  I hope he wasn’t intimidated by the fact that several  major Hollywood stars are Scientologists, that would be disappointing. There is a lot of nudity in this movie, I mention this only because the nudity seemed completely unnecessary, and didn’t add to the storyline whatsoever.

The acting is very good, for two of the principles anyway.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman is riveting as Dodd, drinking, joking and even singing one minute and spouting New Age-y sounding philosophy the next.  I’m perplexed by all the buzz over Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, I found his performance disjointed and barely coherent.  He was great in the Gladiator, Walk The Line, and To Die For, but something was lacking here.  I realize he’s playing an alcoholic, but I think he overplays his hand.  Amy Adams gives a strong, powerful performance, light years away from her usual saccharine romantic comedy persona.  This performance is closer to her tough girl role in “The Fighter.”  Adams is building quite a dazzling resume.  The pacing is slow, slow, slow.  Again I lay this at the feet of Paul Thomas Anderson, he could have easily edited 2 ½ hours down to a more manageable length.

The Master.  Not Masterful.

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