‘The Master’ – A great master class in acting

Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film, like many of his previous films, is a burrowing down into the psyche of America from a key point in the nation’s history.

Set in the early 1950s, amid America’s search for a deeper sense of happiness and purpose in the aftermath of the Second World War. One man believes he has found a solution: Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a self-styled “writer, doctor, nuclear physicist and theoretical philosopher” and leader of The Cause, a cult that is not entirely unlike the Church of Scientology. Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), an alcoholic drifter and former naval officer, stumbles onto a San Francisco pleasure boat on which a Dodd family wedding is taking place, and the pair strike up a flirtatious rapport. Freddie is welcomed into The Cause with open arms. With every passing scene, Dodd’s grip tightens around Freddie’s mind, and indeed the film itself: Hoffman seeps demagogic charisma here, delivering his nonsensical pronouncements with total conviction while Dodd’s wife Peggy (Amy Adams) mews to Freddy, “You inspire him.”  via nitehawk

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The triangular relationship between the three leads is almost surreally complex, but the actors make it effortlessly intelligible. All three performances are intensified by the hallucinogenically vivid colours and dreamy shallow focus afforded by the use of an antique Panavision Super 70 camera and 70mm film stock. Often, The Master looks like a Douglas Sirk film running a high fever: angled lighting leaves the casts’ eyes in shadow while their foreheads and cheeks glisten sweatily. Meanwhile in Jonny Greenwood’s score, Debussy-like melodies meander over rhythmic percussive chopping. This is the equally, but very differently, deranged cousin of Anderson’s previous picture, the nihilistic Western THERE WILL BE BLOOD: while that film’s monstrous oil prospector Daniel Plainview was certain that life had no purpose beyond profit, Hoffman’s reluctant prophet is a man who prizes purpose. THE MASTER already feels like a landmark American movie. It makes words like ‘bold’ and ‘extraordinary’ seem utterly inadequate. 

“The Master” Images

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