Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Master (Theatrical Review)

The Master (2012)
Drama, 137 minutes
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams

Every once in a while, a film is created by a visionary director at the top of his game, with memorable performances from some of the best actors working today, resulting in a cohesive, moving and powerful story that fully resonates with me.

This is not one of those times.

The Master is populated by unlikable characters who do nothing to redeem themselves at any point in the film.

The bulk of the story takes place in 1950. Freddie Quell (Phoenix) is an able-bodied seaman who has trouble adapting to life after the war. He may have been mentally disturbed before that, but we aren't shown enough of his background to make that determination.

We are shown something of Quell's attempts to hold down a regular job -- he seems to have a gift for photography -- but he's quick to anger and attacks one of his customers without apparent provocation. He's also an alcoholic, and we see him drinking all manner of questionable substances, some of which appear to be potentially lethal. When he's accused of poisoning someone with one of his concoctions, he seeks refuge on a ship.

This is where the film gives the audience a glimmer of hope that it will develop into something interesting. This ship is run by Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), who claims to be a writer, doctor, nuclear physicist, theoretical philosopher, and a great many more things. Dodd is fascinated by human beings and psychology, and wants to understand Quell and help him with his obvious anger issues. Dodd has his own way of doing things and his psychoanalysis produces the most memorable scenes in the movie.

Dodd is married to Peggy (Adams), but she's just as unpleasant as the rest of the characters. She barely had any lines, and most of the ones she did have were obscene.

Quell frequently fantasizes about women, as outlined in an early masturbation scene on the beach with a girl fashioned out of sand. This theme is continued when he pictures women naked at a gathering.

If this were a story about Dodd's quest to heal Quell, I might be satisfied with it, but the plot meanders along without any obvious conclusion.

I consider myself a patient viewer, and I appreciate all manner of films that have slow plots, hidden messages, and flawed characters. Unfortunately, The Master left me disappointed.

The final 30 minutes were thought-provoking. I found myself thinking whether I should walk out, and whether anyone would mind if I were to take off my right shoe and scratch my foot. I also wondered whether time was moving differently all of a sudden, and if this was the same Paul Thomas Anderson who gave is There Will Be Blood and Magnolia.

The individual components of the film were mostly in place; the acting was fine, the cinematography and score worked, and Anderson presented a convincing picture of New York in the 1950s. What wasn't present was a coherent story or a reason to care about these miserable characters.

I doubt that Amy Adams will ever work for Disney again after some of the words that came out of her mouth.

Overall score 2/5

Return to index of every review on the site.


  1. Hmm... I wasn't too sure about this one, it seems that the audience cared for it a lot less than critics did (at least according to Rotten Tomatoes). I may just wait for the home media release, I hope I at least enjoy it more than you!

  2. I think it's a mess, but I wouldn't avoid seeing any movie on the strength of a review, unless you agree with that critic on most movies.

    The last time I wanted to walk out that badly was during X Files: I Want to Believe, and I love that franchise.

  3. That's true! I haven't been totally itching to see it because it only got a small release around my corners of Canada, so I'd have to go to a very busy theatre at night time to watch it.

  4. It might not be very busy if they read the reviews :)

    I like a quiet theatre too. I often watch in the afternoon.

    1. Haha, that's true! Yeah I agree, if I go to the movies I much rather see it earlier, it's less busy and the mind is more fresh, I find.

  5. I'm the same. I'm alert all morning and until about 5pm when it comes to working or writing, then my mind says it's time to relax.

  6. Totally agree with your assessment. This was a big disappointments from director Paul Thomas Anderson. One of those times I was checking my watch every 5 minutes by the end.

  7. Thanks Mark,

    I'm surprised nobody has disagreed so far. I'm sure there are people out there who loved it, but I think it's the most disappointing film I have seen in years (considering the cast, director, and my expectations).

  8. "The final 30 minutes were thought-provoking. I found myself thinking whether I should walk out, and whether anyone would mind if I were to take off my right shoe and scratch my foot." LOL

    I'm very curious about this one. At first I wanted to see it because it's friggin PTA and Hoffman and Adams and the return of Phoenix. But know, I just want to find out if I like it or not. It's incredibly polarizing.

    1. Yes, you would think it has to be good with that cast and the director. I wouldn't try to stop people from seeing it, just in case. I can only say whether a film works for me, and this one was the biggest disappointment in years for something I chose to see.

  9. I'm really stuck on the fence for this one. Rotten Tomatoes reports 85% of critics liked it, but the only rave review I've actually read was Peter Travers's. Everyone else's has been middling or worse.

    1. Yep, the only opinion that matters is yours. Some people liked it, but I got nothing from it at all.