Paul Thomas Anderson is hit and miss for me. I really enjoyed Hard Eight and Boogie NIghts, I thought Magnolia was pretty good, Punch-Drunk Love I didn’t care for too much but it had some okay moments, I felt like I wasted hours of my life watching There Will Be Blood and now we come to The Master. This film stars Joaquin Phoenix (one of my favourite actors) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (an actor who I always find entertaining) as a lost soldier and the leader of a cult respectively. Frank Quell (Phoenix) has left the army after WWII and drifts along for a while until he boards a ship which contains the members of ‘The Cause’, a group led by Lancaster Dodd that seeks to show people how they can grow beyond the limitations of their bodies by traversing the spiritual plane and regressing into their past lives, so they can come to understand their true nature.
The Master deals with the relationship between those who lead and those who are led, and how those two archetypes interact and blend with each other. Often they’re both headstrong yet one has to submit to the other, leading to bitterness and resentment. It’s an interesting topic to explore but for me this was this film goes into the miss category.
While the film has other actors in it, it’s really Phoenix and Hoffman’s film. The two of them give incredibly performances and Phoenix in particular disappears into the role. Whenever they’re on screen alone together the film bristles with tension, and the best parts are the question and answer sessions in which Quell has to answer questions without blinking. So much drama bleeds out in that simple scene, and it’s a frustrating in a way because the film is peppered with moments like these but they never really add up to much. It was interesting to start with but after about the 90-minute mark the film started to drag and it petered out to a conclusion (I wouldn’t say it was an ending as such because there wasn’t really a plot as such).
It’s the same feeling I had with There Will Be Blood, the ending just isn’t emphatic enough and the film never seems to build to anything, so when it ends I’m left feeling unfulfilled and that’s not what I like, especially when a film is over two hours long.
If you liked There Will Be Blood then you’ll probably like this, but if you didn’t then steer clear. The performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman are incredible but as a whole the film doesn’t work for me.