Sunday, 2 December 2012

The Master 2012

This film should be renamed The Masterclass in Acting. 

Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a traumatised World War II Naval veteran, who is having difficulty adjusting in a free, post-war society. Suffering from alcoholism, he fails at sustaining a stable relationship and a stable career. A series of chance events lead him to meet Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the leader of a philosophical, yet oddly scientific, movement called The Cause. Dodd provides Quell with the leadership and the hierarchical order that he has sought since the end of the war, and also the impetus to rebel against authority. Thrown in the mix are other influences including Dodd's wife, Peggy (Amy Adams), who completely believes in her husband's work, and his son, Val (Jesse Plemons), who points out that his father is making stuff up as he goes along.

The Master is a strange, complicated story, with layers upon layers of emotion, social and political statements, and simply phenomenal character studies. It is an uncomfortable watch almost throughout, because the themes and personalities it focuses on are borderline vile, and the entire feel of the film is dark, darker, darkest.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is brilliant, as always, playing the narcissistic leader of an experimental 'cult', which some say is loosely based on Scientology. His benevolence is just as creepy as his sadistic exercises and Hoffman is very much 'the master' of all such skin-crawling roles. Amy Adams, as the fanatical wife, is just as convincing. She's a remarkable actress who matches Hoffman's brilliance in every scene.

As for Joaquin Phoenix, he is right up there, with the best actors in the world. Very much like the incomparable Daniel Day-Lewis, Phoenix can completely mould himself into a character, and in this film everything (from the way he walks, to the way he talks), has been especially crafted for Freddie Quell. He is on screen in almost every scene and he made me uneasy all the way through. He is like a caged wild animal (special reference to the scene where he is, in fact, caged) and looks ready to explode all the time. He has dropped a lot of weight for this role and he constantly looks hungry and ready to attack. He is simply a treat, albeit a very sickening one, to watch - and you can't help but watch him in awe, he is that powerful.

In previous years, I have loved Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia (1999) and There will be Blood (2007) for many reasons, but above all it was the level of exquisite performances he was able to extract from his actors that blew me away. As far as The Master is concerned, I did not like the film so much (maybe it was the subject matter, maybe it was the story, maybe it was the taste in my mouth throughout the film), but in terms of directing his actors, this man is a genius.

Also, this review simply can not be complete without mentioning the unbelievable cinematography by Mihai Malaimare, Jr. Every single shot in the film is a beautiful image that should be nominated for an award mightier than the Oscar. In one word, the camera work is incredible.

I can not recommend this film as I personally didn't enjoy it. But I am glad I watched it, for the mind-blowing acting, cinematography and direction.

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