August 10, 2013

Movie Review: The Master (2012)

Philip Seymour Hoffman is well cast as cult leader Lancaster Dodd in The Master, the 2012 film from director Paul Thomas Anderson. Unfortunately, Hoffman's performance is caught in a script that flounders around from one disjointed scene after another.

So many scenes come and go and are never developed. For instance, there's a scene where Dodd's married daughter makes a pass at Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) while a group of cult followers are gathered together. This action comes out of nowhere and goes nowhere except a brief mention later on when the daughter tells her father she thinks Freddie is in lover with her, which obviously isn't true.

Another scene out in the desert of Arizona has Dodd, sitting on his motorcycle, breathlessly telling his daughter, her husband and Freddie, that the game is to pick a point and drive there as fast as you can. So, we get a scene of Dodd driving his motor bike as fast as he can. When he returns, Freddy picks a point and drives there as fast as he can, interspersed with Dodd in extreme close-up stating, "He's going very fast." So what's the point of this scene? Beats me. It feels like it's just dropped into the movie to give all the intellectual snobs a reason to proclaim how deep and meaningful the movie is, as if we've witnessed some metaphysical secret. However, chop this scene from the movie and nothing changes. It's nothing but smoke and mirrors from a director who shot the scenes perhaps with some purpose in mind but wasn't able to connect it to the rest of the story in a meaningful way.

Transitions from one scene to the next are a problem since no coherent story line has been developed. Joaquin Phoenix's character is the main focus, rather than Lancaster Dodd. Freddie Quell is a drunk and not very pleasant guy. I'm not a fan of Phoenix as an actor but he plays this crazy guy rather well, however, there is no growth in the character. He's the same jerk at the end as he was at the beginning despite all the silly games Dodd puts him through that are supposed to improve his personality or something, none of it very interesting.

And that's the biggest disappointment with The Master. Nothing that happens is very interesting. I expected a tense drama showing the clash between the cult's teachings and the mainstream, but other than a brief scene where some guy challenges Dodd's ideas, nothing is developed in this direction. Instead, we get a story about a cult leader who is making up his philosophy as he goes along while using Freddy as a guinea pig that is supposedly helping him find self enlightenment. So he has Freddy walk between a wall and a window over and over again and stating what he feels, while other cult members watch. The character gets quite bored with this after awhile ... and so do we, the movie audience.

Amy Adams plays Dodd's wife, but really has little bearing on the story except for a couple of brief scenes where she makes nasty remarks about Freddy Quell. Laura Dern has a small part as one of the cult leaders and is in probably one of the few good scenes in the movie when she questions the changes in Dodd's philosophical direction. But again, this goes nowhere and we're next treated with the aforementioned desert scene that serves no purpose at all.

Disjointed, purposeless, boring and little development of any character makes The Master a major disappointment. It also has one of the weirdest soundtrack music you'll ever come across in a movie. The acting is consistently quite good and the cinematography is excellent, but this movies is only going to be appreciated by those who can find intellectual genius in a painting that consists of one black stripe going from top to bottom on the canvas.

The Master (2012)

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Joaquin Phoenix  ...  Freddie Quell
Philip Seymour Hoffman ...  Lancaster Dodd
Amy Adams ...  Peggy Dodd

The Master Trailer



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