The Master

The Master ★★★

Whenever I walk into a movie directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, I'm never exactly sure how I'm going to feel walking out. Sometimes, everything just clicks into place perfectly, and I get it. Other times, I can appreciate what he's doing from a filmmaking standpoint, but I'm left out to dry. The Master is falls into the latter category.

It seems like a movie that is unsure of exactly what it wants to be. Does it want to be a satirical take on Scientology and snake oil salesman? Does it want to explore the relationship between desperate alcoholic Freddie Quell and L. Ron Hubbard surrogate Lancaster Dodd? The answer to both of these questions seems to be "yes", but it doesn't contain enough of either to ever feel cohesive.

It's a beautiful slam against charlatans, and the way they manipulate others into believing them. However, it never delves deep enough into why Dodd does what he does, and merely hints at matriarch Peggy Dodd's subtle manipulation of Dodd himself. The relationship between Freddie and Lancaster is undeniably the center of the story, and you're interested in why Dodd takes this outcast loser under his guidance. However, their relationship always seems just out of your grasp, and even in intimate moments between the two, the movie only scratches the surface of something deeper.

The film is absolutely gorgeous to look at, however, and all of the principals deliver excellent performances. It's gotten crazy hype and reviews, and I would like to revisit it at some point to try to figure out what others are seeing that I am not. I don't know if Paul Thomas Anderson has a truly bad picture in him, but this is certainly his weakest that I've seen so far. It's beautiful, but it's a mess.