‘The Master’ Fails to Enlighten 

In Uncategorized on May 2, 2018 at 22:41

The Master Fails to Enlighten 

‘The Master’, a 2012 film by director Paul Thomas Anderson, is an unintentionally messy jumble of ideas with no coherent direction. Like with his overrated Boogie Nights, the director assumes the audience is going to care about the film because Mr. Anderson is clever.

The master sneer

The film tries to carry two strong male leads. However, it fails to make either The Master or his protegé, Freddie Quell played by Joaquin Phoenix, compelling. Both characters are angry buffoons, The Master being the more clever of the two. A little more history of The Master and his cult might have helped us care. 

The character of The Master is a combination of Ernest Hemingway and L. Ron Hubbard. Sounds interesting, right? Nope. We start off with an enigmatic macho man at the beginning of the film, but his bragging has no base in reality and fails to live up its billing. He is cruel, and while charismatic leaders can be cruel, there is little reason to follow The Master. However, I don’t blame the cast as much as Anderson’s script. He assumes that his ideas are inherently interesting, and therefore, it is unnecessary for him to do the work of writing in a back story or compelling motives for his characters.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quill, WWII vet, Schizophrenic, PTSD victim and guinea pig for The Master’s therapeutic technique. Mr. Phoenix (with an assist from Anderson’s script) is obviously reaching for the Oscar by playing a mentally challenged character, but he misses. Perhaps the academy will give him the nod as they did the main characters in Rain Man, Forrest Gump, Sling Blade and A Beautiful Mind. But his performance is not worthy of a top award and neither is this cinematic drudgery.

The Master’s technique is a kind of regression therapy into this and past lives, but it’s not very dramatic. Even the first therapy encounter between The Master and Freddie leaves us dissatisfied. Certainly, it touches on some tragedy in Freddie’s past, but it’s all surface and leaves us wanting, like drinking salt water in the desert. 

The film keeps us at a distance and we don’t care enough about what happens to the characters nor what they do. I am not suggesting we need to like the characters in a movie to enjoy them, but we do need to be moved by them emotionally as we were with the despicable oil man in Anderson’s last movie, “There Shall be Blood.” 

Like one of the songs featured in the movie, The Master is a “slow boat to China”, except the company you are keeping only makes the journey seem longer and more tedious. If you were stuck on a boat with only this movie, you would be compelled to jump overboard.   

The movie tries to do too much and accomplishes little. I kept hoping after the beginning of the third act that each scene would be the end of the movie. Hoping a movie will end while watching it in a theater is never a good sign.

Rating: Rental

Those interested in psychological drama and the acting of Hoffman or Phoenix, or Amy Adams for that matter, will find something enjoyable in this film. For everyone else, rent Anderson’s better film, There Will Be Blood.  

Tex Shelters

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