This movie, ah, excuse me, this “film” set some sort of box office record in its first weekend of release. I didn’t look at the detail of the story, but since it played on two screens in all of the LA area, it must be a limited kind of record.
“The Master” is pretty much the first of the fall onslaught of best picture award contenders to hit the theaters, even if it’s only two. And I might call it brilliant filmmaking, but I have to be honest, this is clearly one that separates the “film as art” crowd from those of us who just simply want to be entertained for a couple of hours with laughs, scares and twists and turns.
“The Master” is Lancaster Dodd, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, a thinly disguised L. Ron Hubbard character. It’s the 1950’s and this guy is well on his way to building a large cult following by writing and appearing and speaking about “past life” nonsense. He’s an intellectual with a convincing manner - a grifter who may well end up being a rich grifter. Yes, it’s a “Scientology” thing.
Hoffman’s performance is notable, a kind of a passive-aggressive guy who makes people comfortable with believing in his B.S. It might have been enough to build a whole story around, but one day a guy named Freddie Quell enters his life and things will never be the same.
If Lancaster Dodd is a grifter, then is Freddie is a drifter. Joaquin Phoenix plays the WWII vet who was weird even while in the military, and he’s even stranger now. This may be mostly because he likes to brew up his own moonshine alcoholic concoctions, which basically renders him a slacker dude. He’s a guy who could care less about anything but booze and sex. The war has now added a violent side to his behavior, and while on the run from his latest foul-up, he latches on to Dodd and his entourage.
He instantly becomes a project of Dodd’s, who uses his techniques to try and change our buddy into a more productive member of society. Instead, he becomes something of a dangerous cult member. Objecting to this is the Dodd’s wife, Peggy, played by Amy Adams, who honestly can’t figure out her husband’s fascination with what to her can’t be fixed.
The film is a vast character study, especially of these two guys, who seem like polar opposites but have a lot more in common as it turns out.
I guess it doesn’t matter – he does lose himself in the part, so much so I wanted to just write him off as a lost cause, but that was probably the point.
As for Hoffman, it’s also a great job of melding into the role of a guy who isn’t for real, but has convinced himself he is. This all being said, I’ll warn you now, “The Master” is not for mainstream audiences. Paul Thomas Anderson, the filmmaker here, brought something closer to that with the award winning “There Will Be Blood” a few years back. This one has none of that plot intrigue or even action in it.
I already said it - it’s a character study, which some dialogue and long scenes of gazing and reflecting, surrounded by beautiful scenery and convincing period dress and manner. You might get something deep out of it, as for me, I took it at face value and I know an “artsy crowd “movie when I see it. I give “The Master” a “7”.