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“The Master” – Review (POSITIVE)

October 11, 2012

P.T. Anderson is one of the greats in odd and shrewd, not a single movie of his have I missed, and not a single one have I disliked. Each is more fascinating than the next. His last directorial effort was the 2007 period oil drama, “There Will Be Blood”, earning Daniel Day-Lewis his second Oscar, and the popularity of milkshake spiked. “The Master”, however, may in fact be Anderson’s most controversial work.

Returning from Navy service in World War II, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) drifts through a series of posttraumatic stress disorder-driven breakdowns. Not only has booze become Freddie’s new best friend, but also just about any sort of poison that numbs the pain is an open house to his body and mind. Finally, after a serious drunken night, Freddie stumbles upon a cult, which engages in exercises to clear the emotions. Run by the fatherly figured Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Freddie becomes deeply involved with the cult and Dodd himself, but it begs the question; joining ‘The Cause’, does it change anything fundamental in life?

The elephant in the room is of course Scientology. “The Master” isn’t necessarily about the crazed religion or it’s founder L. Ron Hubbard, but the similarities is uncanny. In my personal opinion the movie doesn’t seem to be pro or negative for it. It’s a basic look into cults, it’s followers, and the affect it has on them. Freddie’s world is already upside down before joining ‘The Cause’; the only big change is his friendship with the founder, Dodd. The movie shows an interesting portrait about how far one goes defending their leader, accepting their leader, and then reevaluating what the leader has taught onto them.

The movie is driven by the captivating performances of Hoffman & Phoenix, whose film does this belong to? Phoenix drastically changes his body, scene after scene he looks skinnier and sicklier than the last, that’s commitment. But Hoffman, in all his glory, epically hams it up, for all the right reasons. A character like Dodd has to be off the wall crazy, and sane all that the same time, it makes him into a sort of ticking time bomb, much like Daniel Plainview in “There Will Be Blood”. Both characters are sane to a certain point of view, except when people start to doubt them, that’s when things could/can turn radical.

“The Master” isn’t particularly as darkly captivating as “There Will Be Blood”, but it’s oddness, and sheer madness makes it a watch to not miss out on. Again, you can be for or against scientology and still come out appreciating what the movie is offering, because in the end, it’s not about the basis of the religion, it’s about the people, and how it changes them.

GRADE: A

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