Hoffman was not so disappointing as his material was just not that good. This was not a story line worth making into a movie.
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I wrote a better ending walking out of the movie theater. After the master proclaims we all have our masters, Freddie bashes in his head with a white statuette. The antagonist returns to the room to find the new master in the chair and she smiles. To heap any platitudes on this movie is to become one with the cause. Stay home, save your money, clean your toilets. From the first second the movie gets going it becomes clear that Paul Thomas Anderson's ''The Master'' is not a war movie, it's not an action flick or comedy although there are some great laughs here and there.
There will always be those who will go into a movie theater no matter what's being shown, hoping for some orgasmic CGI display coupled with a plot whose sole purpose is to validate the viewer's basic moral beliefs.
So to give you an idea of what the film is about spoilers : Freddie Quell is returning home from the pacific theater in WWII, traumatized and sick of the world. His attempts to fit into society, moderate his drinking of dubious potions of alcohol he brews himself, have a normal, healthy relationship and work as a photographer all fail miserably. He ends up on a yacht after being forced on the run and meets Lancester Dodd, The Master and leader of a cult organization called The Cause. Now this film is obviously partly a critique of Scientology.
Hoffman's got a good resemblance to Hubbard's physique, his character also claims to be a nuclear physicist and i believe the name ''The Cause'' is a subtle parody of CoS, the abbreviation most commonly used for The Church of Scientology. Now although the movie is a satire of CoS and maybe religion in general i find it to be so much more. It's easy to see the film as simply the struggle and friendship between Freddie and Dodd, master and slave, yin and yang.
The charismatic and secretive cult leader vs the demented and aggressive vagabond. If you'd ask me i'd say that the film is mostly about Freddie after all, there's a very dreamy quality to a lot of the narrative and it seems PTA is taking his lessons from Kubrick and Lynch in exploring Freddie's trauma. Freddie's journey from battleship to cult-commanded yacht, the captain metaphors everywhere there's even a small statue of a captain behind a steering wheel on Lancester's desk near the end of the film , the dream scene and the scene near the end with Freddie lying on the beach all imply that there's something going on behind the curtains.
Although a lot of the film heavily resembles ''There Will Be Blood'', this film is fittingly more mystical and open to interpretation. There's even a scene where Lancester refers to him as 'his little soldier' and people honestly say that the film is pretentious. Even if this whole art-house thing might turn you off i've got to add that this film's got some amazing performances, especially from Phoenix.
Anyways, if you don't mind a slow pace and a film that relies on great acting instead of gimmicks i'm sure The Master is something for you, unless perhaps if it insults your personal beliefs in which case there's nothing this review will do to change your mind. Well, I really wanted to like this one. On paper it's perfect. What could go wrong? The script. If a movie doesn't start with a good script, it can't turn out well.
There is no crest to this story.
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And there is no denouement. It lays flat for over two hours. The actors give great performances and the scenes are constructed well. Joaquin Phoenix has moments that are tragic. And then the movie just plods on. I am fine with a film that develops slowly. I'm not fine with a film that never develops. Is it about an alcoholic? Is it about a cult leader?
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It's random moments, between an alcoholic and a cult leader, strung together, with no direction, and no narrative. You could extract any scene from this film, and on it's own it would stand up well.
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Pieced together, however, they don't add up to a story. A story has to be about something. It has to start somewhere and it has to go somewhere. This story starts, and then goes nowhere. It is fine if the resolution of a story is simply it's endlessness. This film, however, never establishes where it's going. And, therefore, can't simply, go on forever.
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It never went anywhere to begin with. The actors are left to spluge all over the audience for no discernible reason. I'm over Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and have been for a while. In this role, as a sort of L. Ron Hubbard figure, he overacts to the point of caricature. Joaquin Phoenix is probably the most talented American actor working today, but his physically contorted, repetitive, mentally tortured, alcoholic, Freddie Quell, was never given the opportunity to become real or sympathetic, or even vile.
He just, like the rest of the movie, went on, and on, and on. This actor, Joaquin Phoenix, has the chops to do anything. In "Two Lovers" Phoenix draws the portrait of an emotionally crippled man whose life crumbles beyond all hope in his eyes , but through an accident of fate finds a path through which to go on living. He is riveting. There isn't anything he can't do given the opportunity. But he doesn't get the opportunity here. Clearly this film was trying to comment on cultism.
We know too much, however Jonestown, Waco, Warren Jeffs , about cults to accept this fraction of a story. Clearly the main character was an alcoholic.
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Yet the film never explored his turmoil, or addiction, the way even a dumb show like "Celebrity Rehab" would. We were almost brought close enough to his story to care during his first session with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, but that was not developed and ultimately went nowhere. Just like the rest of the film. There are some shocking scenes in this film. But there is no story that justifies them. It is like watching a big screen version of "Americas Most Shocking Videos", - for over two hours.
They are independently compelling, but ultimately disconnected. And they never amount to a story about anything I could wrap my arms around. For me the ultimate failure of this film is that there was no point to it. It is not an art film. It is a pointless film. And it's not that I don't get "it". There's nothing to get.
Better to spend your time watching car crashes, on TV, shot from dash cams.
At least you won't expect much going in. The movie comes after a gap of five years following Anderson's highly successful outing in There Will Be Blood Anderson is one of the few commercial filmmakers alive today who write their own screenplays. And perhaps that's the reason why he has not been very prolific as a filmmaker—yielding only once every years.
The Master also marks the return of Joaquin Phoenix from a self-imposed acting break. Freddie belongs to the dying breed of war veterans which finds it hard to adjust to the sanities of a post-war civilized world. The excruciating pain and mental trauma that a soldier experiences during a war is irreversible and often enough to drive him crazy. Freddie has had a troubled past but the war has broken him completely. Freddie's pitiful, perverted mental state can be best described by the two bizarre scenes presented at the beginning of the film. In the first one, Freddie is shown masturbating in front of a sand sculpture of a woman which he perversely seems to use as a substitute for a love doll.
In the second one, Freddie is shown imbibing a certain fluid most likely gasoline directly from the fuel tank of a Navy vessel. Freddie is dipsomaniac with a morbid liking for dangerous cocktail drinks which he prepares by mixing alcohol with toxic substances like paint thinner. After being fired from a couple of jobs because of his irascible behavior, Freddie stows away on the private yacht of Lancaster Dodd aka "The Master" Philip Seymour Hoffman. Dodd is the charismatic leader of a philosophical movement called "The Cause". Freddie's life changes for ever after meeting Dodd.
For the second time in his life after his stint in the US Navy , Quell sees a cause worth fighting for. He begins to show a kind of jingoistic fervor for "The Cause". Anyone who dares to oppose "The Master" and his preaching will have to first deal with him. What follows is a hypnotic journey of self-realization which will either consume Quell or will make him the true master of his fate. The Master is a multifaceted work of cinema that can be enjoyed at so many levels.