The Master

The Master ★★★★★

I was very lucky to catch The Master in a special screening in 70mm in Chicago, and I must say it did not disappoint. From the technical aspects to the writing to the performances, no other contemporary director is more skilled than Paul Thomas Anderson at weaving all of these into the rich fabric of cinema and he proves that once again in The Master. It is tough to really give justice to what the film is about with a short synopsis or basing it upon only the subject matter it touches on. I honestly think it is best to go into the film as blind as you can and I am thankful I got a chance to see it before what I am sure will be a considerable buzz when it starts to roll out. Like all of Anderson's films it is a multi-layered tale filled with the complexities of the human condition and may not be one that is easily accessible, but any moviegoer worth their salt won't have problems and be up to the challenge since it is never obtuse or purposefully frustrating. I was a bit surprised with the amount of humor that the film has, but it's function seems more to mirror the erratic behavior of Freddie than to directly play for laughs. The Master uses that erratic behavior in a way to surprise you where it is going and keep you on your toes since I was never totally sure how a character was going to act or react. It disarms you in a way which makes the numerous hard hitting dramatic parts even more potent.

Joaquin Phoenix gives an absolute tour-De-force performance as Freddie. Every moment on screen is sheer agony from him. His face always seems to be scrunched to the side, he always seems to stand in a back breaking manner with various nervous ticks and when he speaks his voice always trembles. He is a perpetual cry for help and is an extremely guarded individual, but Phoenix is also able to make Freddie someone that has an animal like magnetism and despite his behavior you can't help but care about. To contrast that Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Lancaster Dodd who is instantly charismatic and always seems to have the right thing to say and has the gift of engaging with people. Incredibility intelligent it is hard to get an exact read on whether he is a trickster, a true believer or a swindler. It is the dichotomy of the characters that is so immensely fascinating.

The Master continues Paul Thomas Anderson's tradition of making films with great visual potency without being self indulgent. There are so many visual sequences that are burned into my memory, but he does it so assured and effortlessly. He never uses flashy protracted scenes to call attention to his cinematography. Every moment has a function and within that function he consistently makes it visually engaging and engrossing. The Master was shot in 70mm and I was so happy I was able to view the film in the manner it was intended. It was absolutely breath taking to watch with the films compositions that richer and the lensing even more powerful. Since Paul Thomas Anderson's usual cinematographer Robert Elswit wasn't able to work on the film he choose Mihai Malaimare Jr. instead and he shows just as much talent with more attention paid to focus as well as takes that last a little bit longer. There was also a point towards the end where he uses a few jump cuts in about as subtle of a way as possible to great effect. Jonny Greenwood's score is always used in perfect moments as you would expect from an Anderson film and that scene that accompany Greenwood's score feel eerie, but also beautiful. I was a bit surprised Anderson used music during the period as much as he did. It helped to give a strong scene of time and he never chooses incredibly well known songs in the era to the point it becomes distracting, but with a score like Greenwood's I was a little shocked I didn't notice it as much as I did with There Will Be Blood.

With amazing performances, a fantastic script filled with wonderful depth and a masterful technical touch it is hard to not see this as a Oscar juggernaut. It is probably too early even in the films cycle let alone the Oscar cycle to say it with any certainty though. The Master cast a strong spell on me where I can't get the themes and images from my mind and if we consider films to function as cults (as quoted in the film the basis of cult is the will of one man and nowhere is the will of one man more apparent than as an auteur) than I boldly consider myself an initiate of Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master.