<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Laura Dern, Rami Malek
Harvey Weinstein has apparently commented on The Master saying it would lose money and he should have been “a devil’s advocate instead of a cheerleader” alluding to the fact that he should have had more control over the length, margins and marketing of the movie (link to article).
I had to watch this film in two separate sittings on DVD. Because it was torturously long and infuriatingly slow paced. Yes, the performances were very good, especially Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, but that doesn’t cover up director Anderson’s muddled film that doesn’t really establish any point if he’s indeed trying to make one.
Introducing us to an American sailor called Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) at the start, Anderson shows us a psychologically damaged man – now whether that’s because of the horrific impact of the Second World War or just the way he’s always been, we’re not too sure – who makes his own hooch (country liquor) and dry humps a sand woman (made of sand, like a castle!). War over he is reintroduced to society and like most war veterans, finds it hard to readjust to normal life. Freddie is unbalanced, sexually depraved and has violent tendencies.
Director Anderson depicts all this with time period settings beautifully, but at a lethargic pace. Freddie finally stumbles upon The Cause – a Scientology-like cult – headed by The Master, the charismatic and delusional Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) instantly falling for the charms and security of his newfound friends and family.
Dodd takes a particular interest in Freddie, taking him under his wing and using psychological question and answer exercises as well as some past life regression therapy and some general quackery to stabilise the scarred sailor. He’ll drink Freddie’s hit-the-spot hooch but won’t tolerate violence; well that is until it suits him. Freddie goes out and beats up one of the Master’s detractors and just gets a slap on the wrist. All this while Dodd’s pregnant wife (Amy Adams) gets sidelined and eventually wants Freddie out. She even gives Dodd a hand job in the bathroom to get him to promise never to drink Freddie’s concoctions! Of course there really isn’t anything like a woman’s manipulations is there…
The Master really isn’t about Freddie if you look at it closely. It’s more about the delusions of grandeur and megalomaniacal tendencies of the Master. At two hours and twenty minutes the film seems more like four. But kudos to Phoenix who lost weight and contorted his body to look deceptively frail and hunched. And to Seymour Hoffman for his powerful performance. Unfortunately, the overly long film doesn’t really leave you with anything meaningful. Go only if you’re a fan of these two fine actors.