The Master

The Master

All of the elements that make a Paul Thomas Anderson film work are there in his latest work, The Master. It is a subversive, genuine piece of hot blooded filmmaking that stands apart from anything else we’ve seen this year in cinemas and sustains Anderson’s continued veneration as an unwavering artist.

Set during the 1950′s The Master follows a soldier, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix, in rabid form) as he tries to adjust to a normal existence following his release into civilian life. Flirting with different professions, including photography and farming, he finds himself in the company of Lancaster Dodd, (Philip Seymour Hoffman) the enigmatic, mysterious leader of a cult like society that claims people’s spirits have existed for ‘trillions’ of years and their present bodies are merely vessels, while enlisting them under the guise of providing them cures to their ailments by getting in touch with their inner soul.

Freddie and Dodd share an interesting relationship, with Dodd being able to instill unquestionable commitment from Freddie, whom he slowly and gradually enrolls into his cause. There is a scene of great intensity and piercing psychological insight, where Dodd asks Freddie a series of questions, many repetitive, to get him to completely open up and lay bare the truth about himself. In terms of performances, both Phoenix and Hoffman tear up the screen and provide a study in contrasts—Dodd a master manipulator of people with his careful poise and elegant choice of words, Freddie an undisciplined animal who works almost purely on the basis of primal instinct, and all of the scenes where the two confront each other result in a crackle and energy not seen in any other American film this year.

Amongst the most frequently used director trademarks is Anderson’s penchant for filming long stretches without dialogues and the opening scenes, where we are first introduced to Freddie, allows us to discover him on his own terms amidst the chaos that surrounds him. Phoenix, for whom The Master marks a return to acting after a 4 year hiatus, has rarely been better and he puts in what is undoubtedly a career best performance as the free spirited, untamable right hand man. Hoffman, a frequent early collaborator of Anderson, is perfectly brilliant as the civilized fraudster who amasses followers through his unwavering will and determination and more than anything, The Master becomes as much about the confrontations between these two men as it is about their complicated relationship with each other. That it doesn’t make complete sense by the time it ends or provide proper closure to the story may have something to do with Anderson’s desire to not provide easy answers, but that nagging feeling to go back and watch it again, this time paying more attention, is a sentiment that many are likely to share when the final credits roll.

Rating: ★★★★½

About Faizan Rashid

A veteran Dubai based film critic, Faizan has been reviewing movies for nearly a decade. His work has been published in local newspapers such as 7days and on prestigious online websites such as MSN Arabia and