Less than Masterful: Paul Thomas Anderson Fails to Recruit Us Into His Vision

Posted by at 2:24PM

I should’ve known I wasn’t going to like The Master.  I cannot say I have loved all of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work, including There Will Be Blood.  Daniel Day-Lewis was excellent at yet another incredibly unlikable, unhinged character.

On the topic of unhinged and unlikable, enter The Master.  Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a troubled, destructive man dealing with the aftermath of returning after fighting in WWII.  Quell is also fighting against his own personal demons.  He is self-prescribing by drinking horrific alcoholic concoctions (paint-thinner in one).  All in all he’s in a bad place when he comes across Lancaster Dodd (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman), aka the “Master” of, let’s call it what it is, a cult.

It becomes hard to know what is real and what is not as Freddie imagines things that have not happened.  As there is no character evolution it is painful to watch Freddie and Dodd’s destructive behavior.  There is no one to root for.

Sure, there are complex questions about man and sexuality, and man versus animal.  Quell and Dodd seem to be two halves of a whole as Dodd recognizes in Quell.  It’s easy to wonder, is man truly that base?  It is interesting that Dodd claims that humans are not part of the animal kingdom yet he insists on there being a leader of men (in this case himself as the Master).

The performances are excellent and may even be recognized come awards season.  There was a definite void when Joaquin Phoenix was pretending he would never act again.  His intensity is finely matched by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams (who plays in my opinion the real Master here, Dodd’s quietly domineering wife).  Hoffman has mastered, no pun intended, this type of slick character who is not what he seems (expertly done in Doubt and even The Ides of March).  Adams is a fierce force onscreen.  Her sweet, doe-eyed look is a stark contrast to the strength and steel she brings to her characters.

I couldn’t help but want The Master to end.  After it all was done I couldn’t believe that was what we were left with, no redemption just a bunch of questions, confusion, and a headache.




2 Responses to “Less than Masterful: Paul Thomas Anderson Fails to Recruit Us Into His Vision”

  1. spassky says:

    The inability of someone to engage a story that doesn’t contain characters they “like” is a tell-tale sign of ineffective and wrong-headed criticism. Why must we dislike films that do not contain characters we like? Why can’t we address why exactly we dislike these characters, and what the writer/director was intending by including these unlikable characters? Must we have our hands held with every narrative? The operative question seems to become, though, how would you make a character in this movie more “likeable” and subsequently would make you “like” the movie more? This, of course, is the antithesis of measured art criticism, and makes it a journal entry, not any type of review, which, to be quite frank, serves little to no purpose outside of your own perception.

  2. PeriU says:

    I believe the definition of a review is someone’s opinion, perception, or point of view. “Unlikable” can be interchanged with “unpleasant” or difficult to watch. The characters are ones that are almost impossible to empathize with. I have no trouble understanding the themes of the film, as hazy and chaotic as the film is, but I do have a problem with a film that has no plot and uses excellent actors to no end. We may not need our hands held with every narrative but when we are left out in the middle of nowhere the narrative was not told well. When we are forced to ask, “What was the point?”, that 2 hours seems like a waste of time. Your comment is your opinion and my movie critique/review is my opinion.

    See this: http://observer.com/2012/09/the-master-rex-reed-philip-seymour-hoffman-joaquin-phoenix-paul-thomas-anderson/


Comments are moderated and will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive. Please do not be alarmed if your comment does not show up immediately. We will get it posted soon.