21 November 2012
Paul Thomas Anderson returns after a long absence with The Master. Set in a wounded post-war America, this complex, thoughtfully crafted film features Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman at their best.
As the two lead characters challenge each other, Anderson begins to layer his ideas into the story of a troubled war veteran ensnared in a self-help cult. The nature of belief, freedom, religion, the conflicting urges that drive human behaviour, our need to be loved.... I expect to find more with each viewing.
Phoenix is amazing. His character is a twisted, scrawny mess. Alcoholic, violent and obsessed with sex, he's equally repulsive and child-like. Close-ups of his intense face, of which this film has many, reveal a fire missing from cinema since the era of Pacino and De Niro.
Hoffman on the other hand, is charming and persuasive as 'The Master.' His commitment to the nonsensical teachings of The Cause (the film's cult) is so convincing, the audience is given quite a jolt when he's questioned by a skeptic. Amy Adams, as his wife, finely balances the film by showing the darker aspects of The Cause. She's ruthless and controlling, with the ability to see through social masks.
Although the director has distanced himself from Scientology comparisons, several story beats are taken from L. Ron Hubbard's life and the early years of Dianetics. However, this film can also be seen as a commentary on the empty promises dished out by self-help gurus like Anthony Robbins and Tim Ferriss.
The Master is the most unpredictable and satisfying cinematic experience of the year, and a must-see for the performances alone.