‘The Master’ deserves more critical acclaim March 2, 2013
This spectacular film begins with a bright blue sea of dangerous waves and an enchanting score written by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. The image and sound set a tone for the film: Unrelenting power conflicts with a voice of reason. The sea functions as the powerful force of nature, embodied in Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Freddie Quell, and the voice of reason, present in the score, is Philip Seymour Hoffman as cult leader Lancaster Dodd.
“The Master” was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, a modern auteur whose films have polarized audiences and have found numerous fans over the years. The writer/director of “There Will Be Blood,” “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” has constructed the latest film masterpiece brimming with exceptional acting, fascinating narrative choices and stunning visuals. This is a film that should be referred to when someone defends filmmaking as a form of artistic expression and not simply popcorn entertainment.
Quell has returned home from active duty and can’t find a place in the world until he stumbles upon, quite literally, The Cause, a cult ran by the eccentric yet convincingly brilliant Dodd.
Anderson told Quell’s story with an excellent screenplay, but his filmmaking techniques and visuals standalone. “The Master” could be viewed as a silent film and a coherent story still exists.
As Quell changes jobs Anderson and his cinematographer, Mihai Malaimare Jr., transition with the camera and examine areas sometimes beaming with color and other times muted. Colors pop quite often throughout the film and help a viewer to understand what they should be focused on.
When we are first introduced to Dodd he is wearing a red robe that contrasts with the darkness of his dank setting. This particular visual shows how this powerful personality separates himself from the darkness of those who follow him. While Dodd may have plenty of followers this film has not found the critical acclaim that it deserves.
Hoffman and Phoenix deserve more recognition for their roles in “The Master.” Even Daniel Day-Lewis, recent best actor Oscar winner for “Lincoln,” seemed to think so. When accepting his Screen Actors Guild award weeks ago, Day-Lewis acknowledged Phoenix’s performance that was dismissed by the guild.
Phoenix’s Quell is a dog who’s unhinged and relentless in his pursuit for alcohol and the truth. He becomes so obsessed with the truth in his life though that he loses control of his emotions and they begin to dictate his future, as a member of The Cause.
Hoffman as Dodd is just as good as Phoenix, but approaches it in an entirely different way. While Phoenix functions as the wild dog, Hoffman maintains control as the master of the beast. Unfortunately, there are moments where nothing Dodd can do will help this mad dog.
Quell is childish as he asks for sexual favors on a notebook complete with a smiley face, flatulates, giggles aloud, and finds younger women alluring. The two couldn’t be farther from each other on the surface, but when looking deeper an audience will realize that they are more similar than perceived. Dodd is a child when he takes advantage of cult members and their willingness to accept his beliefs. Dodd and Quell are both children at heart, but one chooses to take physical action while the other uses words as his sword.
Anderson raises a question that is difficult to answer: Who is in control, is it the master or the beast he tries to tame?
Movie fan Patrick White doesn't spare anyone's feelings when deciding if the latest Hollywood offering is trash or treasure. Catch his reviews on the latest theater and DVD releases in Saturday's paper.