DVD Movie Review: The Master (2012)


No mastery here

Been a while, but I’m back now, happy to be back, thanks to everyone who has kept it with Picturenose. I just wish I could bring you better news upon my return, but such are the perils of writing about movies – every so often, you’re going to find one that has seemingly everything going for it, including an ensemble cast, a terrific premise and one of the best directors working today, period (Paul Thomas Anderson), and yet emerge from its (near interminable) 138 mins feeling frustrated, even angry, at the waste of time that you have just experienced.

The film is The Master (2012), and both myself and very good friend with whom I went to watch it at Brussels’ excellent Cinematek had both been looking forward very much to catching up with P.T.’s latest. After all, this was the man who had brought us the simply marvellous There Will Be Blood (2007) and Magnolia (1999), and the very sadly departed Philip Seymour Hoffman was cast as Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a quasi-religious movement known as ‘The Cause’ that is gaining popularity and notoriety in the US post World War II, and which should definitely, absolutely not be taken as being in any way referential to L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology.

Both of us were fascinated and settled into our seats eagerly to enjoy the film. Which didn’t happen. At all.

Joaquin Phoenix, it must be said, is well cast and delivers a snarling, twitching performance as WWII vet Freddie Quell who, because of his alcoholism, sex addiction and general misanthropy, is having great difficulty adjusting to civilian life after the war. Stowing away on Dodd’s boat, the pair meet and develop a liking for each other (which is helped by Dodd developing a liking for Quell’s mysterious hooch, which has paint thinner as one of its ingredients). Offering to help Quell sort out his issues with the ‘Processing’ techniques that are an integral part of his philosophical movement, Dodd welcomes him into his life. But Quell is very resistant to change…

I was around 45 minutes into the film when I first realized that I just didn’t care about any of the characters at all – Hoffman plays the spiritual leader with none of the charisma of his earlier performances, nor the charisma that one would expect a guru like Dodd/Hubbard to have. Amy Adams is utterly insipid, quel surprise, as Dodd’s wife and, while Phoenix’s anger and self-destructive tendencies are arresting at the outset, his performance quickly becomes a one-note turn.

What’s more, to our amazement, the film was simply deathly dull and, as we both realized once it was over, utterly pointless. Of course, I am perfectly aware that my take flies utterly in the face of the accepted wisdom concerning the film, namely critical acclaim across the board, but I care not a jot – it just didn’t do it for me. I’d tell you to go and see it, so we could have an argument, but I’m serious when I say that I would not wish that upon you.

138 mins. 

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