Sunday, September 23, 2012

Review: The Master (2012)

Anderson's odd couple.

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Produced by Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Ellison, Daniel Lupi, and Joanne Stellar
Written by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Laura Dern

**** (Original rating: ***1/2)

Celebrated auteur Paul Thomas Anderson returns after a five-year absence with a controversial, polarizing film dealing with aspects of the founding of scientology. At the center of this drama are seaman Freddie Quell (Phoenix) and philosopher Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman). The men are two sides of the same coin - Quell irrational and violent, Dodd peaceful and charismatic. As two opposing forces, they're naturally drawn towards each other, despite their different personalities. Dodd takes it upon himself to help Quell, indoctrinating him into his group of followers. Quell is welcomed by Dodd's wife (Adams) and family, but the pressures placed on him under Dodd's peculiar methods are extremely taxing. At the end of their long journey, they must try to reconcile their differences as men and as human beings.

Phoenix and Hoffman are superb in their challenging roles, with the former unleashing his tempestuous emotions and the latter charming his followers to the very end. Though each role could induce the performer into a caricature, the seasoned actors know exactly how to play their uneven characters. The other performances, including Adams', are good, but the focus is on the men here. Of course, these performances hinge on Anderson's writing, which provides a lot to discuss and even more to discover in additional viewings. It is not lacking in food for thought, but the compelling ideas, such as the duality of man and the societal role of religion, cannot hide the frustrating, wandering plot. The film is directed brilliantly by Anderson, and the technicals are first rate. And Jonny Greenwood's score is very special indeed. Still, something in the film's construction is lacking, so that it ends up being more interesting to deconstruct than actually sit through. It may be intellectual, well-acted, and carefully assembled, but the pieces to the puzzle just don't fit as well as they could. While the film is really good, it isn't quite on par with Anderson's previous work.

Oscar Potential: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Phoenix), Best Supporting Actor (Hoffman), Best Supporting Actress (Adams), Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score

14 comments:

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    1. If it helps, this is the only major Oscar film I've seen, unless TDKR comes back around. :)

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  2. ^^I agree, I'm super jealous. I want to see this so bad! Great review, and I bet you're spot on with a lot of those Oscar predictions.

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    1. Haha, thanks. I'm sure the film will get many, if not all, of these nominations, but I wouldn't say it deserves all of them.

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  3. Man, I'm disappointed that we're too busy this wknd to see this, not sure if it's even playing yet. Glad to see you enjoyed this, I'm not that familiar w/ Anderson's work but the cast is just superb here!

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    1. Ooh, you should check more of Anderson's work out. The cast is great, but Phoenix and Hoffman give the only awardworthy performances.

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  4. Great review! As a huge fan of Hoffman and Adams I'm really looking forward to this one, but this is yet another review that says it's great but something is off.

    Still, I really want to see it, as the subject sounds really fascinating and I haven't seen a single bad or even mediocre movie from Anderson.

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    1. Thanks! I'd say the subject is fascinating, but the execution could've been better. Oh, and Adams really doesn't have much to do here. Honestly, I don't think she deserves an Oscar nomination for this.

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  5. I have been really looking forward to this, and based on your review, I think I'll really like it, despite its flaws. I'm willing to overlook a poorly constructed plot, to some extent, for outstanding character studies and thematic richness. Excellent review! You're a very intelligent and balanced critic.

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    1. Wow. Thanks so much. Given the short length of my reviews and the great amount of bloggers who do it better, that means a lot. This is definitely one of my favorite reviews I've written, so I appreciate the support. I almost want to put that quote on my banner. :D

      Despite my slight disappointment, the film is definitely worth multiple viewings for its, like you said, "outstanding character studies and thematic richness".

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  6. Couldn't agree more with everything you said here. Really liked the movie, but I believe it is the least best PTA effort. Excited for the acting Oscar chances here.

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    1. Yay! Glad we agree man. Though I still haven't seen Hard Eight yet, I agree that it's PTA's least best. I'm starting to think that Hugh Jackman could end up winning Best Actor, but I'm pulling for Phoenix all the way! :)

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  7. Finally saw this today Josh. A few old ladies had to keep telling each other when bits were dream sequences. Your point "it ends up being more interesting to deconstruct than actually sit through" might be the most accurate thing written on the film so far.

    I deliberately avoided all reviews because Australia seemed to be getting it so late and I felt certain that I was going to be in the minority on this one as I left the cinema disappointed. Good to see my movie reviewing buddies pretty much all felt the same.

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    1. Thanks for that Toby. :) "Disappointed"...my thoughts exactly.

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