“but above all, I am a man.”
Hey that’s not Anthony Ainley. Sorry, wrong Master. Phillip Seymour Hoffman portrays the inventor of a religion that ropes a World War II vet into his delusional inner circle. It’s a film that evokes a time period, features some fiery performances, and is also shot in glorious 70mm.Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a man damaged by war (World War II as it would come to be called). His mind is scrambled, sex obsessed, and not helped by his homemade liquor that might contain ingredients like paint thinner. He can’t hold down a job and finds himself on the run thanks to his temper and then somebody dying from his tainted booze.
Freddie hops a yacht leaving harbor and finds himself in the presence of Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), an author who has written a book massaged into a religion/self-help movement called “The Cause.” Those around Dodd call him “Master” and soon Freddie falls under his spell and Dodd falls under the spell of Freddie’s homemade hooch.
Dodd invites Freddie to the onboard wedding of his daughter Elizabeth (Ambyr Childers) to Clark (Rami Malek) although Dodd’s wife Peggy (Amy Adams) eyes Freddie with suspicion. The Dodd’s are traveling to the east coast to spread “the Cause” as well as live off the patrons willing to hear about it. Dodd tries to use the Cause to cure Freddie with middling results, but the two engage in a mutually destructive association.
The Master is a film that pulls you under its spell thanks to great performances by Phoenix and Hoffman as well as a fascinating glimpse into a time period. Director Paul Thomas Anderson has become known for fascinating character studies, either full of them (Magnolia) or just one flawed player (There will be Blood).
The Master is another with the focus on the making-it-up-as-he-goes-along Dodd and the twisted and damaged Freddie. Dodd is a carnival barker of the highest order spewing feel-good psychobabble and double talk, growing impatient and short tempered when people question him.
Freddie does the same but is more apt to beat the crap out of you where Dodd is just content to assault you verbally. Much has been made that Dodd’s philosophy appears to be based on Scientology (any religion might be inserted however), but the story is more about Freddie’s journey and how Dodd influences or scuttles it.
I don’t know that the average audience will exactly get caught up in the journey, but film fans or acting fans will certainly have a satisfactory voyage. The Master also has the added benefit of being shot in 70mm, the first film to do so since Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet in 1996, so the picture looks excellent.
The Master is presented in a 1080p transfer (1.85:1). Special features include the 20 minute “Back Beyond” that takes outtakes and deleted scenes and shapes them into a short film with narration and music by Johnny Greenwood, 17 minutes of teasers and trailers, 8 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage, and the 58 minute “Let there be Light,” the 1946 documentary about WWII vets by John Huston that Anderson drew from. You also get a DVD and digital copy.
The Master looks excellent and is masterfully (could not resist) acted. It may be an acquired taste, but those who get drawn into it will find a compelling film.
Visit the DVD database for more information.