“The Master” written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

By on January 7, 2013

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The Master


Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch Drunk, There Will be Blood)



Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Best Actor Oscar for Capote, Doubt)

Joaquin Phoenix (Gladiator, Walk the Line, We Own the Night))

Amy Adams (Enchanted, Doubt, The Fighter)

Laura Dern (Rambling Rose, Blue Velvet, October Sky)


Running Time:      144 Minutes


PTAI’m on the fence about P.T. Anderson.  I thought “Boogie Nights” was entertaining but I never got past the revolting subject matter.   I thought “Magnolia” was annoyingly self-important, though it had some great scenes and performances.  “Punch Drunk” was a unique little story and Adam Sandler was good in a serious role.  I thought “There Will be Blood” rode Daniel Day Lewis’ Oscar-winning performance to its success, although it was a good movie.


The Master went over my head.  My knowledge of Scientology is limited to their bad press and a few South Park episodes.  I don’t know how much of a veiled depiction this movie is of L. Ron Hubbard and the start of Scientology, but I don’t think you need to know that background to see this movie.


adamsmasterFreddie Quell (Phoenix) is a WWII veteran with alcohol, anger and other problems who is trying to find himself (and employment).  Dodd (Hoffman) is the head of a cult called “The Cause”.  Frank and Dodd find each other and Frank becomes a Dodd disciple.


There are things going on here but there is never any progress on anyone’s part.  Freddie never stops being alcoholic and crazy, and Dodd never seems anything other than agenda-driven, deceitful and manipulative, even after an arrest for robbing an ex-follower of $11,000.   Dodd’s power grows somewhat as the movie goes on, but we aren’t given enough reason to care.  No one changes.


pshThe characters are so one-dimensional I can’t tell if the actors did a good job or not.  In the case of Phoenix, he’s repeatedly presented himself to the public as being crazy, so you’re never sure he’s aware the camera is on during his performance.  With his character, there is just a crazy shell with nothing underneath.  Hoffman does all he could with his character and makes it more interesting then it deserves to be.  Amy Adams, versatile and consistently great, is likewise constricted by the limitations of her character (Dodd’s wife) and dialogue.  Laura Dern’s role is minimal, but she is a welcome presence.  Her character (one of Dodd’s main followers) seems sincerely good and well-meaning, just misguided.  She was the only person I could remotely relate to.


I actually watched this on a hotel room’s pay movie service, because I had completely forgotten about it.  Even though I was eagerly anticipating the movie’s release, the buzz died so quickly the movie went off my radar.  I liked Johnny Greenwood’s score as much as his work on “There Will be Blood”.  I can’t comment on Anderson’s directing because I was too distracted by the nails-on-a-chalkboard marathon I was watching.


dernmasterBasically, I found “The Master” to be an unlikeable movie with unlikeable characters.  I was just glad it was over.




It was interesting seeing Hoffman and Adams in another movie together after enjoying them — and everything and everyone — in John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt”.  Just so the two could redeem themselves in my mind, I watched “Doubt” the next night.  What a great, compelling movie. All four leads (Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, Hoffman and Adams) earned their Oscar nominations — among my favorite Streep and Hoffman performances ever.  While “The Master” couldn’t end soon enough for me, “Doubt” ends too quickly.  The person I watched it with initially and I had different takes on what transpired and our conversation afterward was spirited and enjoyable.




About Tom Godfrey

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