Film: A ‘master’piece

By Will Ashton |
The Master | Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson | Rated R

Paul Thomas Anderson is unlike any director working today in Hollywood.

His use of visuals, tone, character, atmosphere, and writing can only be found — or at least can only be found well — in his films. Through works such as Boogie Nights, Punch-Drunk Love, and Magnolia, he explored the minds and lives of his characters with a unique sense of persistence and balanced weight of comedy and drama that remains captivating and powerful.

But it wasn’t until There Will Be Blood, my favorite film of 2007 and one of my favorite films of all time, that he truly demonstrated his full power behind the camera and became my favorite director working today in Hollywood.

Now, five years later, he comes out with The Master. The film was my most anticipated of the year — and that is saying something in a year that also features The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, Django Unchained, and The Hobbit — and my expectations for this film were very high. Thankfully, I can say that this film was truly able to live up to my lofty hopes.

The Master studies Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a Navy sailor returning home from fighting World War II with a heavy addiction to alcohol, often filling his drinks with substances such as paint thinner or torpedo fuel. After struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and failing to find a stable job because of it, he sneaks aboard the ship of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a charming, well-spoken, and self-proclaiming writer and creator of The Cause, a philosophical movement which teaches about passing through many lives and finding one’s place in a complex universe. Under Dodd, Quell finds himself taken over his convictions and beliefs, and follows under his wing.

The Master, to date, is the best film I have seen in 2012. Under Anderson’s masterful (no pun intended) direction, the film tells a personal and hauntingly engrossing character study on a man who struggles with the realities with which he is presented. Using 70mm footage, Anderson uses incredibly beautiful imagery to invite the audience into Quill’s unique and self-destructing world. He’s not afraid to let his characters breathe, presenting them in situations without cuts or breaks and showing them in an upfront and honest point-of-view. He captures the character’s loneliness and confusion in a way only a few filmmakers ever could.

As Quill, Phoenix gives a powerhouse performance. Unless Daniel Day-Lewis can knock off my heavy pressed socks at this point in Lincoln (which, knowing Day-Lewis, may not be impossible), they might as well start metaling in Phoenix’s name onto the Best Actor Oscar. He’s somehow able to become this other person, and through his mannerisms and expressions is able to be another whole person magically right before our very eyes.

Hoffman also gives a great performance as Dodd. The scenes with them working off one another, in addition to reading Anderson’s wonderful dialogue, creates some of the best scenes I’ve seen in the theater in years.

The attention to detail to create this ’50s period is impeccable, and allows us to become a part of this time even more. But it’s Anderson’s way of shooting his scenes and what he is able to capture on camera that truly make this film the great film what it is.

Towards the end, the film does slightly begin to unravel due to its inability to not get lost in its own ideas and themes, much like the characters in the film. One could argue this was the point, but I don’t particularly agree. But still, as the film progresses into its final reel, it ends on a note that’s haunting and memorable.

And as I was sitting in the theater, watching the final scenes roll and then seeing the credits come after, I was reminded once again what films are able to capture and what a masterful director like Anderson is able to create behind the camera. So bravo, once again Mr. Anderson, you’ve created another ‘master’piece.

RATING: 4.5/5

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