The Master is a film written and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson. The movie follows Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a World War II veteran that returns home and struggles to establish a steady life outside of the military. He eventually meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the leader of a philosophical movement, and Dodd, along with his wife Peggy (Amy Adams), accept Freddie into their group to help spread the word of “The Cause.” Over time, however, the issues Freddie has with alcohol dependency and adapting to a post-war society create significant difficulties for the Dodd family’s advancement of “The Cause,” and Lancaster and Peggy attempt to use the ways of their teachings to help Freddie fix himself to become a disciple for their movement.
I have been a huge fan of P.T. Anderson’s films over the years, specifically Boogie Nights (1997) and There Will Be Blood (2007), so it was a given that I was going to go see this film in theaters shortly after its release during the summer. Considering it took five years for Anderson to release his follow-up to There Will Be Blood, one of the most amazing movies of our time, I knew it was sure to be well thought out and intricately fascinating. After the viewing the film, I instantly thought that Anderson had created a movie that was sure to receive some assortment of award nominations, but the over-complication of the plot made it something I, along with most viewers leaving the theater that day, was utterly confused by.
Given that the plot centers on the teachings of a post-war cult, it is no wonder that the film seemed rather disconnected and uninviting. The beginning of the film started out strong—it truly seemed like P.T. Anderson’s latest film was going to be gloriously masterful, pun intended. However, as the storyline fully came into focus, it only proceeded to drag on with exaggerated repetition. Anderson created some downright complex characters, but by the end of the film, I did not feel like they had grown very much—it was like they all ended up right back where they began.
With all that being said, The Master is still a solid film. In my opinion, the film is wholly carried by three stellar acting performances from the main characters. In Phoenix’s first feature film since his fake retirement from acting a few years ago, he reminds us all why he has always been heralded as one of the best actors of his generation. Philip Seymour Hoffman also turns in a fantastic performance in his role as the leader of the cult. However, the brightest display of sheer acting ability came from Amy Adams as Peggy Dodd. While she seems like an innocent and docile wife, the film, coupled with Adams’ amazing performance, reveals Peggy to be much more of a woman that pulls the strings from afar—I would argue that her character is the actual “master” that the title of the film implies. If this film does not sound like it’s for you, at least give it a shot just to take in an astounding representation of acting by a stellar ensemble. The Master is rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, and language.
Academy Award nominations for The Master:
Actor in a Leading Role (Joaquin Phoenix)
Actor in a Supporting Role (Philip Seymour Hoffman)
Actress in a Supporting Role (Amy Adams)