Welcome back Joaquin Phoenix.
Four years after his rapper phase and semi-retirement, Phoenix returns for Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master.”
Freddie Quell (Phoenix) is a disturbed man who has returned home from WWII with a rough case of PTSD. He is constantly drunk, often violent and never appropriate at the dinner table. One day he stows away on a boat and comes to meet a man named Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the charismatic leader of The Cause. The two develop a friendship of sorts. Freddie cooks up the booze and Lancaster gives Freddie something to believe in.
Although Anderson denies “The Master” is about Scientology, there are quite a few similarities between it and this film’s The Cause. Lancaster and his wife (Amy Adams) lead a small group of believers through personal sessions of memory recovery in order to unlock secrets of their past lives.
Hoffman plays a very convincing cult leader, ranging from smooth talking to fiery indignation. Phoenix gets to have more fun with his role, but Lancaster Dodd gets to shine in a few great scenes. The role of Freddie Quell is portrayed more through physical traits than dialogue, but Phoenix does as much as he can with the character. It’s a very impressive physical performance. Both men really get to display their skills and it’s great to watch them work together onscreen.
One scene involves Dodd asking Quell a series of questions during a memory recovery session. The further into the scene we go, the more intense it becomes in the room and each actor gets to play with their character.
Unfortunately, the film only has so many of these scenes strung together in between long periods of not much happening onscreen. Director Paul Thomas Anderson has a similar problem that another director named Anderson has. You either love his films or not. “There Will Be Blood,” his last film, was critiqued by many to be a little slow-moving and light on plot. “The Master” isn’t too different in that regard. It’s a good film, for sure. You just wish it would get to its point a little quicker.
Anderson and his cinematographer also provide some great visuals for the film. It helps make those long periods of idleness on screen much more tolerable. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some award recognition coming this winter.
When it comes to these kinds of “award” films, people are quick to judge if a film is as good as the hype. Maybe that’s fair and maybe it’s not, but “The Master” should be able to stand on its own merit as a quality film. It has a long way to go before award season, but it has a chance to be one of the year’s best.
Over the next two weeks I’m going to try to do some horror films for Halloween. Let me know if there are any favorites you think I should check out.