TIFF Movie Review – The Master (2012)

The Master, 2012.

Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.

Starring Amy Adams, Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laura Dern, Jesse Plemons, Rami Malek and Kevin J. O’Connor.


A wayward U.S. Naval veteran becomes the protégé of man who leads his own religious following.

Paul Thomas Anderson The Master

U.S. Naval veteran Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is set adrift in post-World War II to become a member of the civilian population; thwarted by a volatile temper and a compulsion to drink alcohol he loses one job after another. When Freddie stowaways on a boat he encounters Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who is in the middle of hosting a wedding ceremony and party for his daughter. Dodd is fascinated by his new discovery and proceeds to ask and record a series of questions which bring forth the memories of a true love Freddie left behind.

Freddie Quell becomes integrated into the community of followers who hang on every word uttered by Lancaster Dodd. Of the most ardent of believers is the wife of Dodd portrayed by Amy Adams who believes that offence is the best way to defend their community from naysayers. Quell becomes the self-appointed henchman who physically assaults those who openly oppose Dodd and believe him to be a fraud. The trouble is that Freddie is having doubts about the theories being preached and his loyalty comes under question; what follows are a series of repetitive exercises designed to mentally break down him. It is a strange mixture of psychological torture and therapy.

A funny and refreshing moment is when the son of Dodd declares to Freddie Quell that his father is making it all up as he goes along. The opening sequence where Freddie pretends to make love with a naked woman made out of sand serves as a statement that the art house sensibilities have remained intact. As the movie progresses it becomes an intimate study of a man who may either be mad or brilliant and an emotionally troubled protégé weaving through his personal demons. The pacing is slow but steady. Long held shots allow the eye to explore the imagery on the big screen and the actors are allowed to play out scenes such as the confrontation between Quell and Dodd when they are placed in adjacent jail cells.

The emotional core of the period picture is the interaction between Hoffman and Phoenix whose cinematic relationship results in them going from being friends to foes. One cannot help but think that five-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson is expanding upon the themes established in his previous effort There Will be Blood (2007) where the existential and spiritual needs collide. In a supporting role is Adams who believably portrays a devoted follower and wife. Anderson has created beautiful imagery and produced fully developed characters filled with all the conflicting traits that make us human. It is best to think of The Master as a fine glass of cognac which is allowed to breathe. The flavor is intoxicating though it won’t be enough to entrance the safer tastes of the box office; however, expect the Academy Awards to be in 2013.

Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Trevor Hogg

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  • Randy Kirklle

    I saw a trailer for this movie a couple days ago and thought it looked interesting. Some coworkers at Dish had been talking about going to see it sometime soon but I think I’m going to wait on this one. I usually like post WWII movies so I think I would enjoy it though. I like to watch these intellectual movies at home so I put in my Blockbuster @Home queue that I have through my Dish account.