Movie review: The Master

September 24, 2012 – To say I didn’t care for the critically acclaimed “There Will Be Blood,” a movie written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, and based on the Upton Sinclair story “Oil”, is putting it mildly.

I actually hated it.

Before you begin screaming at your computer screen that I’m some kind of moron because you believed it was the best movie ever, or that this review isn’t supposed to be about “There Will Be Blood”, let me explain.

I am a huge Daniel Day-Lewis fan, and although “There Will Be Blood” may have highlighted his best acting work yet, I didn’t find it entertaining because I didn’t like a single character in the story. That’s why I felt hesitant about spending money on “The Master” after reading reviews that the characters Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix play in “The Master” resemble the Daniel Plainview character I hated the most in “There Will Be Blood”. But the trailer intrigued me, and I enjoyed “Punch Drunk Love”, another Anderson film, so I decided to spend the $12 and give it a chance.

Extremely well cast, writer/director Anderson got exactly what I expected from Hoffman and Phoenix – stellar performances. The role played by Amy Adams may have impressed me the most, however. As the manipulative wife to Hoffman’s Master, this role is new for her and vastly different from her other rom-com performances.

The complex script is the epitome of a character driven story. Phoenix plays an alcoholic vet suffering from nervous disorder after fighting in the Pacific during WWII. Lost and alone after his release from the Navy he goes from job to job looking for a purpose, drinking heavily, and getting into trouble. He stumbles upon The Master one drunken night, and soon is caught up in the “cause” and its “processes” that try to cure him and make him a whole man again.

A blatant condemnation of scientology, and people being conned into believing something far-fetched because of their need to belong to something, the “cause” dabbles in hypnosis, mind control, time travel and past lives. As the charismatic philosopher, whose own son willingly admits he makes this stuff up as he goes along, the character preys on the lost especially if they are wealthy, and Hoffman shines in a role he seems born to play.

The story is a gentle one, as the Master preaches positivity and peace to his cult followers, and there are few behind the curtain scenes that show the audience what a swindler he really is; Anderson does a good job with making you sympathize with his character in that way. But there are some explosive scenes with Phoenix, who never really learns to control his anger no matter how much time he spends with the Master.

I can’t say I loved Anderson’s latest effort, but I didn’t hate it either. I can say I’m glad I took a chance on it because it’s so different from anything else I’ve ever seen before, and that is always a pleasant surprise. I predict there are a few Academy Award nominations in its future, as it is just that type of film.

Watching “The Master” felt a little like reading a classic literature when I’m in the mood for mindless pulp fiction instead. Or better yet, it was like eating a salad when I really wanted a burger. I know one is better for me, so I’m glad I chose it, but it’s a little less satisfying than the other choice may have been.

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