The Master Review

As is so often life’s natural way, opposites tend to attract each other.

Experience is prized by the naive, youth is treasured by the old and the less said about how different boys and girls are to each other the better?

And even in same sex relationships, you invariably find masculine and feminine roles at play.

Balance is something so natural to our way of life that we seek it out whenever we can, which leads me rather clumsily towards the major element of Paul Thomas Anderson’s new epic, The Master.

Freddie Quell is a shipwreck of a man.

Having bravely served his country during the second world war, this former naval officer now finds himself set adrift when back on dry land.

Though maybe he was like that all along?

Now the war is over, there’s a vacuum in Freddie’s world. In an era before post-traumatic stress syndrome had ever been coined, our naval hero finds adapting back to the usual routines of regular, working life a struggle.

So Freddie goes from job to job and moves from place to place, filling that hole inside of him with alcohol, sex and becoming ever more destructive as you do.

‘Til one night, when on the lam from the consequences of his errant behaviour, Freddie stumbles aboard a yacht with a party on the top deck and into the life of Lancaster Dodd, the charismatic leader of The Cause who have a new way of thinking about human nature.

The Master is another perfectly realised film delivered from the mind of director and writer Paul Thomas Anderson, with a brilliantly bonkers performance from Joaquin Phoenix beating strongly at its heart.

Phoenix plays Freddie Quell and, whilst this character may not be the master of this film or his own life, his magnetic portrayal of a lost soul is as effervescent as a lighthouse in a storm.

Playing him as an out of control alcoholic and wound up sexual deviant, Phoenix is always on the brink of something; whether that’s smacking someone upside their head, adding paint thinner to his increasingly experimental and lethal home cocktails or legging it from whatever disaster his rudderless actions lead him into.

In need of a guiding force, Freddie is immediately taken with the powerful presence of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd; a fiendishly intelligent fellow who has come up with his own, flawed ideas about human existence that spooks many of the normal folk in fifties america.

These two characters are drawn to each other like a moth to the flame, both recognising that they need the other to justify their existence and make sense of their lives.

Yet, in spite of these two terrific actors’ bravura performances, The Master isn’t always easy viewing.

As is Anderson’s wont, his new film clocks in at well over two hours long and seems to struggle through an identity crisis of its own.

Though maybe that’s the point.

There were so many moments where I laughed out loud during this film, even crying at one scene in anticipation of Phoenix launching himself into another explosive act at whoever dared to question his master’s deeds.

But judging by the reaction of people around me, not everyone found The Master quite so funny as me; probably because it’s not really meant to be a comedy.

Still, there’s an inherent slapstick quality to both the subject matter at play here, as well as the ferocious energy Phoenix brings to his role.

Plenty of film critics will give The Master a great write up just because of the names of those involved, and Anderson’s new film may very well be great.

I just thought it was a great laugh, but then I’m the very opposite of a professional film critic.

Jonathan Campbell

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November 2012
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