Friday, September 14, 2012

Review: The Master

This is probably the first year that all three directors with the last name Anderson have movies out. Wes Anderson had Moonrise Kingdom, WS Anderson has Resident Evil: Whatever out this weekend and Paul Thomas Anderson has The Master out at the same time. And while I’ve not doubt WS’ movie will make the most money, I don’t think anyone can argue that Paul Thomas and Wes’ movies are better, because Moonrise Kingdom and now The Master are two of the best movies I’ve seen all year.

On the other hand, I feel that this review is somewhat unnecessary. Is anyone who's heard of this movie expecting it to be anything other than good? Seriously, it's directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. He did Punch Drunk Love, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood. He's one of the best directors currently working, so did any of us expect this to not be good?

Ah well. The plot is concerned with Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell, former World War II soldier turned alcoholic, unemployable drifter. One night he stumbles onto a boat looking for work and discovers an odd but charismatic man (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), who is in the midst of founding Scientology a strange cult based on his sci-fi writings.

Okay so, as you may have guessed from that opening, the cult in question bears more than a passing semblance to Scientology a famous real world religion cult and Phillip Seymour Hoffman's character is more than a little bit like L. Ron Hubbard the shitty sci-fi writer who founded it. But PTA et al aren't lying when they say that's not what the movie is about. Scientology The Cause is a major part of the movie, but it and the increasingly odd people in it are not the focus of the movie. In fact, as the movie itself is quick to show us, it's actually a character study of Phoenix's damaged former soldier. The cult that he joins are merely a device to show how it's affects his already heavily damaged psyche.

Being a character study this is primarily Joaquin Phoenix's show and by the way: HOLY SHIT! He gives an incredible performance, easily one the best of the year. His character is quietly damaged and the effects of the brainwashing often bring out his worst aspects. He's tasked with acting out one of the darkest and most disturbing character arcs of the year, as well as portraying the majority of the brainwashing techniques used by the cult, purely through his acting. He will be nominated for an Oscar for this performance and he deserves to win.

The only other two major performances come from Phillip Seymour Hoffman as L. Ron Hubbard the cult leader Lancaster Dodd and Amy Adams as his wife. Hoffman is, of course, amazing, a man defined by his unflinching politeness and calmness, making it all the more interesting when they and he break down. Adams is a little weirder and a little harder to gauge. She's given the thankless task of acting out a character almost entirely devoid of emotions, which can make her seem a tiny bit flat at times, but her subtly accentuates the bigger personalities around her, and she's really quite good, despite her minor role.

Aside from the acting, I'm kind of hesitant to discuss the story and it's direction and writing. Oh they're all great; The script is one of the best of the year thus far, PTA is one of the best directors working and this is easily his best directed work outside of There Will Be Blood (including a few really incredible shots that more or less guarantee him a Best Director nomination). But discussing what sequences really stand out and why risks spoiling the movie, and since the trailers have been, for once in movie history, coy enough to avoid spoilers, I'd like to do the same. Suffice to say this is one of the best movies of the year and easily the best thing hitting theaters right now. If this plays anywhere near you, do not miss it, it's a fantastic movie about self loathing and psychological damage as well as the effect Scientology cult brain washing can have on those already damaged and what draws damaged people to such things. Go see this movie.

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he might go see Resident Evil just to round out the Anderson trio.

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