A Naval veteran arrives home from war unsettled and uncertain of his future – until he is tantalized by The Cause and its charismatic leader.
Paul Thomas Anderson [Magnolia, There Will Be Blood] has a remarkable talent for making movies in the same general style while still having each one be incredibly unique and different, not only from his other films but anyone’s films. His slow, deliberate, and simple stylings are far from the Hollywood norm, and it’s too bad that he takes so much time between movies. He does have one slated for 2014, also starring Joaquin Phoenix [Gladiator, Walk the Line], a detective drama set in 1960’s California.
The most notable thing in this movie is the lead performance by Phoenix. If you haven’t been in touch with the Hollywood scene the past couple years, Phoenix has had a strange stretch of behavior. After 2008’s Two Lovers, Phoenix stopped acting, and even seemed psychotic and bi-polar in interviews. He then came out with the 2010 self-centered documentary I’m Still Here about Phoenix’s transformation from actor to aspiring rapper. It was so strange to see all of that happen, and then now we see him in film again giving arguably the best performance of 2012. I would compare his work here to something akin to Daniel Day-Lewis, where you don’t even recognize the actor, he is someone else entirely. The mannerisms and physical nature all so in-line with the emotion and attitude, Phoenix has created an interest/fear/awe-inspiring character. From sitting calmly listening to the Master to destroying a jail cell in a fit of rage [he actually destroyed a real toilet in the first, used take], Phoenix is truly incredible.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman [The Big Lebowski, Moneyball] puts in a classicly great performance that he always delivers, but also shows a unique range for himself. Very deserving of the supporting actor nomination. Also nominated for a supporting role is Amy Adams [Enchanted, The Fighter], who was also good, but in pretty limited screen time.
The film was a technical beauty. Some very memorable camera shots and insanely long single takes made for a very solid pace and feel, everything meshed together wonderfully. The music was classic PTA, with weird percussion numbers reinforcing the crazed nature of the characters. I was in fits of anxiety, dread, and reflectiveness throughout, which I loved.
The content-matter was actually pretty interesting, although I’m not sure how fictional any or all of it was. Whether you see The Cause as a cult or a legitimate belief system, you can’t help but find it’s leader, methods, and ideas as interesting and intriguing. Maybe my only gripe was that the content could only be stretched so far, and my interest and focus wavered at points.
3.5/4 – The Master is a technical beauty and a wonderfully intriguing character study lead by an unrecognizable and brilliant Joaquin Phoenix.