Some have criticized “The Master” as being aimless and cold. These are people who have profoundly missed the point.
“The Master” is the story of Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a deeply disturbed Navy seaman in the closing days of World War II. Freddie finds himself consumed by carnal and narcotic desires in a desperate attempt to cope with a severe case of posttraumatic stress disorder.
As Freddie spirals further and further into his own personal hell, he is embraced by the enigmatic cult leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Something about Freddie fascinates Lancaster, leading him to embrace Freddie as his protégé.
“The Master” is the latest directorial offering from the immensely talented Paul Thomas Anderson, and it doesn’t disappoint. While it lacks the fire of Anderson’s previous film “There Will Be Blood,” “The Master” can more than hold its own. It’s smart, skillfully directed, brilliantly acted, and beautifully shot.
The duality of Lancaster and Freddie feels like an expansion of the themes touched upon with Daniel Plainview and Eli Sunday in “There Will Be Blood.” Freddie’s fiery madness contrasts beautifully with Lancaster’s subdued burning rage.
Special mention must be made of Joaquin Phoenix’s performance. While it is clear Phoenix has real talent when it comes to playing troubled men (as proven by his performances in “Gladiator” and “Walk the Line”) he completely outdoes himself. His acting is nothing short of amazing, and he completely steals the show from veteran Philip Seymour Hoffman. It’s truly a pleasure to watch him work.
“The Master” is not an easy movie to watch. Its running time and serious subject matter make that abundantly clear. If you’re looking for cheap and easy mindless entertainment, steer clear. But for those who want something substantial out of a night at the movies, “The Master” is sure to deliver.