The Master is the work of a genius. Paul Thomas Anderson has created an ambiguous film, crafted with layers of rich insight into the human condition. Lacking plot but making up for it with an intense, often perplexing character study, it keeps jaws dropped and minds firmly focused. The Master‘s contains depth and layers equating to a mesmerising cinematic triumph.
Joaquin Phoenix is given the freedom to let rip as Freddie Quell, an emotionally disturbed Naval veteran searching for guidance following the Second World War. He stowsaway upon a boat containing members of a cult led by The Master (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) whose relationship with Freddie is constantly absorbing and impossible to fully untangle. It’s a film which struggles to be reduced to a synopsis because it just contains so much texture and emotional intrigue. Anderson paints his characters so carefully without showing you the full product, providing the constant sense that you might not be seeing everything. What you can see produces absolutely riveting drama, balanced against what’s left unsaid which just makes everything feel that much more intense.
The film is packed full of drawn out scenes and sequences which might not always contain clear purpose but nevertheless manages to capture a dark, encapsulating curiosity. A rare thing in cinema, it all feels remarkably original. Phoenix’s uncontrolled performance is the perfect fodder for Philip Seymour Hoffman’s benign power, with both men offering Oscar-worthy performance always difficult to fully get a hand on (not to mention a terrific supporting role from Amy Adams), all clearly delighting in their freedom.
The film’s gifted with incredible cinematography and a visceral score that penetrates the subconscious, providing thread for each audience member to make sense of the film’s vision. The Master lacks a final act and deliberately ends without a satisfying sense of conclusion which only adds to its gravitas. The relationship its characters share with the ideas of power, guidance, religion, sex and mental health are left to be deliberated for time to come.
It’s an impressive and powerful piece of film making which needs to be seen to be believed and probably needs to be seen again and again to really try and grasp. And to think I entered the cinema in fear of boredom?
Review by David Rank
The Master is out now in the UK and US. Certificate 15 (UK). Running time 144 mins.
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