Some people go to a movie to sit back, relax and be entertained. Others don’t mind a drama as long as it has 3 acts and can be followed easily enough. There are people who like to get involved, caught up, with a film while there is another group that really like to go to movies that present a puzzle that in all probability will never be solved and in the long run does not make much sense—most of the last category are called “Critics”. “The Master”, opened up in a limited release, with very strong, positive reviews and awards for the leading actors at the Toronto International Film Festival plus word of mouth raves. This review will be a minority review in that I haven’t the slightest idea what the screenplay by Paul Thomas Anderson, who also directed, was trying to get across and except for this writing will completely have forgotten the film and wonder where all the award nominations, and possible wins, come from.
Mr. Anderson had made 6 major films of which I liked “Magnolia” and “Boogie Nights” plus really admiring his “There Will Be Blood”. As a writer here he seems not to have known where he wanted to go with his main story with characters played by Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd. There is a father and son aspect, though Lancaster isn’t shown having a relationship with his son Val, played by Jesse Plemons. At times it seems to be a guru-follower theme while, maybe not even intended, there are homoerotic moments.
Hoffman gives a strong quiet performance while Phoenix’s is a much more physical one. His hiatus from acting, to become a rap star, seems to have taken away some of his power as an actor. In the last part of the movie if you close your eyes you would swear you were hearing Marlon Brando doing a takeoff of Marlon Brando. The only strong female role is played by Amy Adams as Hoffman’s pregnant wife and, there is what really would be called a cameo, by Laura Dern as one of Dodd’s benefactors..
Should I think about the film at all it will be trying to figure what, and why, 2 scenes in the film are all about the original music soundtrack, which is one of the most annoying I have ever heard and the 4-5 original songs of the 50s era, which the film takes place in, are a welcome sound. Regarding the 2 scenes–and these are not spoilers–one is a social get together where all the women are nude and most of the men in suits and the second where Freddie walks back and forth between a paneled wall and a window across the room, which I can only assume to show Dodd’s charisma and influence as a leader.
This is an over extended film at 2 hours and 15 minutes and the only reason to see it is to try
and figure out why the critics are raving about it.
Critic rating: 2 stars out of five. Thumbs down.