Continuing on with the many Paul Thomas Anderson films I intend to review is The Master, a film so deep and unusual that I had to wait until I saw it, let it sink in and then watched it again before I could review it. The film follows the story of Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix), a woman obsessed drunk and naval veteran who, when fleeing from an angered crowd, discovers a group of men and women who are dedicating their life to living in the ways of this sort of hypnosis they perform. It's difficult to explain, but just go along with it. They're led by a man named Lancaster (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), who allows Freddie to come and stay with them.
The Master isn't a film that you can only watch once, which can be taken two ways. The first is that the film didn't quite convey everything it wanted to convey on the initial viewing. That Paul Thomas Anderson tried really hard to say the rather powerful things he wanted to say, but did it in such a subtle way that they're almost unrecognisable on first viewing. The second is that it's a film that's so intriguing that you want to come back again, and the second time around it speaks to you in a whole different light. It's a whole new experience. A better one, even. Both of these are correct, or at least in my opinion they are.
This is not a film for everyone, nor a film for any occasion. I must get that out of the way before I start to share my thoughts on it. There are people I know, and some of them are very big fans of arthouse and indies, who couldn't connect with this movie. But for the people that somehow find a way to be drawn in by this film and its unique way of telling its story, they will be blown away by what they will witness. It's a powerful movie that doesn't need to spoon feed you everything. It's very quiet in how it approaches its themes and subject matter, and it couldn't be any more brilliant at doing so.
Paul Thomas Anderson's screenplay is fantastic, putting in dialogue so grand and wonderful. It's quite a lengthy movie, but his screenplay doesn't make it feel so. It nearly clocks in at two and a half hours, but there's never an unneeded moment, or a scene that feels tedious or dull. Every scene adds a new layer to these characters. It gives them extra depth, making my overall experience of this film all the more profound.
But what really makes this film so brilliant are the performances. The actors make the film, and without them this film just wouldn't be quite as amazing as it is. It would be good, yes, but not great. At times it could be considered nothing more than an acting showcase, but once you start to think about these specific scenes you'll come to realise that it's not. It's a film that's more than that, and it's just the performances that help it get to where it wants to go.
I have but one problem with this movie, and it fractures the film quite a bit. The film is brilliant, I'm not saying it's not, but it's hard to connect to. I couldn't tell you how many amazing movies I've seen where the main character is either psychotic, unlikeable or just downright despicable. Many of my favourite movies fall under this category! What make these movies work so well is that we can connect with them, or we sympathise with what they're going through. When it comes to The Master, I couldn't connect with Joaquin Phoenix's character, no matter how perfect and unrecognisable his performance was.
To sum up, The Master is not a film for everyone, largely due to it's lack of personal connection between the audience and these characters, but it's a deep movie with some brilliant writing and unrecognisable performances, plus it's a film you'll find challenging to stop thinking about.