Today at around 12:30, I took a seat in a theatre filled with people twice to three times my age to watch a film I have been more than a little excited to see, Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master”.
Perhaps I had my expectations a little too high, and while the film is by no means bad, it didn’t deliver quite what I was expecting. While many will be lured by the promise of an intimate look deep inside a cult, it does little else but present.
Freddie Quell (played by Joaquin Phoenix) is a hot-tempered, mental illness prone Navy vet who has a hard time adjusting to any situation he finds himself in.
Perhaps by sheer luck, but left unexplained, he stumbles aboard a ship where he meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his army of followers. Soon Freddie is an integral part of their life, and Lancaster begins to explore Freddie’s past through time-traveling therapy.
The pace is slow, but then again so is converting someone into your spiritual clan.
First and foremost praise must be given to both the actors and the director/writer himself. “The Master” is shot impeccably, with each camera position being carefully chosen.
The performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman is always true and believable (not that this was even a concern), and the performance by Joaquin is explosive (although his dialogue is often painfully inaudible).
Even smaller parts by Amy Adams and Laura Dern are handled with care and thought. A potential Oscar moment comes in the highlight of the film where Dodd is confronted about his beliefs at a party by a Mr. John Moore. Unable to control his rage, Philip plays the overcompensating egomaniac with finesse. What the film does well is represent the type of people who run and join a cult extremely well.
However, the film leaves too many stones unturned. Personally, I don’t mind when there are questions in a film that are unanswered. Much like life, there are always things that just don’t become known.
Yet, in the case of “The Master” it seemed more like missed opportunities, rather than natural mysteries.
How did this cult start? What exactly is so maniacal about them? Has there been any success stories using his methods? There is the sense that the cult isn’t fully fleshed out.
“The Master” gets a lot of things right, and could be a film I grow to love for its unique qualities, but upon first viewing it doesn’t feel like it digs deep enough. For both Freddie and Lanaster it is too simple to cut ties with one another. One does not effect the other’s life in any significant emotional capacity.
Ultimately, the film suffers in the compelling department. When it has you deep in its grasp and should finish the fatal blow, it lets go.