Review: The Master (2012)

>> Sunday, September 23, 2012

USA/C-137m./Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson/Wr: Paul Thomas Anderson/Cast: Joaquin Phoenix (Freddie Quell); Philip Seymour Hoffman (Lancaster Dodd); Amy Adams (Peggy Dodd); Laura Dern (Helen Sullivan); Ambyr Childers (Elizabeth Dodd); Jesse Plemons (Val Dodd); Rami Malek (Clark)

There are a handful of films that so dazzle you with the power of their images that, as you leave the theater, the world appears changed.  Colors are more vibrant.  Textures appear in sharper focus.  You notice the composition between shapes.  Your concentration is heightened.  In short, you view the world as if it were a movie.  Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, The Master,is one such film.

The story, what there is of one, centers around Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) a sex-obsessed, alcoholic World War vet, diagnosed with a “nervous condition.” After being released from the naval veteran’s hospital, Freddie loses one job due to erratic fits of anger and flees another job due to inadvertently poisoning a co-worker with his highly-potent homebrew.  It is Freddie’s talent for low-budget mixology, combining ingredients such as industrial alcohol and paint thinner with fruit juice, that initially ingratiates him with Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a huckster leader of an infant scientific/religious movement (some call it a cult).  Dodd sees Quell as his greatest conversion challenge, and Quell sees Dodd and his group as a respite from his wandering.  However, under-the-surface Dodd and his extended family may be as tightly-wound and animalistic as Freddie. 

The Master is a difficult, confounding film that will leave many audiences cold.  Those that aren’t turned off by Anderson’s cryptic writing and the film’s deliberate pace may well be repelled by the often sexually crude dialogue and the energy of Phoenix’s raw-nerve performance.  That said, The Master is a work of art, and it is easily the best film of the year.  Paul Thomas Anderson has yet to make a bad film, but with the one-two punch of There Will Be Blood and The Master, his work has risen to the level of that of the top rank of film artists, such as Welles, Kubrick, and Fellini.

There is much to praise in this 137-minute work of art.  Anderson always get the most from the actors that he works with (from Philip Baker Hall to Tom Cruise to Adam Sandler to Daniel Day-Lewis), and The Master contains career-topping performances from Phoenix, Hoffman, and Amy Adams.  The cinematography by Mihai Malaimare Jr. is mesmerizing, and the Jonny Greenwood's score amps us the tension without intruding on the action.  The only area where one might find fault is in the lack of story, but it is hard to complain when the film is so rich in characterization.  The movie will leave you with plenty to contemplate, even if you can’t quite process the narrative upon a first viewing.

For soused cinema enthusiasts, The Master is a banquet.  Freddie Quell is a capital “A” alcoholic, and the film focuses loving attention on his mixology skills.  Much like the Three Stooges, Freddie can concoct volcanically potent yet drinkable cocktails from the most unlikely ingredients (though he doesn’t use an old boot as a cocktail shaker).  The character of Lancaster Dodd is also an inveterate tippler, but he keeps his predilections better hidden, under the watchful eye of his domineering wife.  The tug of war between Quell and Dodd, two bombastic boozers, makes fascinating viewing.

Drinks Consumed--Torpedo juice (180-proof grain alcohol drained from a torpedo); poisonous punch (made from a variety of liquors and paint thinner); champagne; Old Fashions, and scotch served neat

Intoxicating Effects--brawling, physical violence, swearing, hangover, memory blackouts, sneaking sips, harmonizing, jail time, destruction of property, and soused sex
Potent Quotables--When asked by Dodd if Freddie’s brew is poison, Quell responds, “Not if you drink it smart.”  (I’ll replace this paraphrase with the exact quote when the film is released on video.) 

Video Availability--The Master is available on Blu-rayand DVDfrom Starz/Anchor Bay.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) in Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous masterwork, There Will Be Blood (2007),is also fond of his drink. 


Will S. February 8, 2013 at 5:05 PM  

The Master is a great movie, indeed.

No review at the left for Crazy Heart? Great movie starring Jeff Bridges as a bourbon-soaked country singer whose stardom days are long behind him, reduced to playing small bars in out of the way places. Soundtrack by T-Bone Burnett. Can't go wrong; made me want to try the fictional McClure's whiskey. :)

garv February 10, 2013 at 11:40 AM  

I still have to catch up with CRAZY HEART, but I'll watch it eventually. Sorry for the lack of posts lately. I could make numerous excuses, but it all boils down to pure laziness. February 19, 2013 at 7:44 AM  

I still haven't had a chance to watch 'The Master' yet.

Quite a few mixed reviews.

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

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