It’s been five years since Paul Thomas Anderson’s last cinematic venture. In 2007 There Will Be Blood won an outstanding amount of accolades and has been hailed by some critics as the greatest film of the previous decade. Now in 2012, the director has returned with The Master. Was the film worth the wait? Remarkably so; The Master is perhaps the best film that you will see this year.
Centred in the film is Joaquin Phoenix’s drunken and volatile sailor Freddie Quills. Shuffling along in the aftermath of World War II, Freddie is essentially a walking piece of wreckage. Twisted facial expressions and violent outbursts show that this is a man who, like most male characters of Paul Thomas Anderson films, is struggling in a world that seems to disregard those who cannot fathom reality. Finding himself on a cruise ship after a series of mishaps, Freddie meets Lancaster Dodd (the always excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman), doctor, nuclear physicist, and above all leader of The Cause, a cult that mirrors scientology.
Finally accepted and appreciated, Freddie is taken under the wing of Lancaster who soon learns the ways of The Cause. It would be easy to use this connection between the characters to be the tried and tired method of the leader exploiting the follower. As the film progresses, it is clear that both men are flawed and are trying to establish a grasp on reality – and in that sense are equal. Phoenix and Hoffman’s relationship with one another is one of the strongest points of the film, and Anderson uses his ability for creating character depth to brilliant effect. Both actors have a remarkable magnetism to them, and for this reason, The Master never lags behind.
It is reassuring to know that Paul Thomas Anderson is still set on directing films that bristle with the type of ambition that reminds one of visionary and bold days of 70s cinema. This isn’t to say that The Master is a throwback. It is a bold work that, like There Will Be Blood and 1999’s Magnolia, is grand in scale and rich in detail. The film’s depiction of post-war America is created with wonderful authenticity and reminds one of films of that time.
Each shot of The Master is constructed with elegance and luxuriance, accompanied by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s hypnotic soundtrack. The performances are mesmerising and staggering. Joaquin Phoenix in particular is frighteningly captivating as the disenchanted Freddie who is at once instantly believable, showing more proof (if more were needed) that he is currently one of the finest actors working today. Also deserving of credit is Philip Seymour Hoffman, who throughout his career has consistently produced enigmatic and interesting characters.
Superb, engrossing (and yes, masterful), The Master is a blistering achievement and quite possibly the best film released this year. Let’s just hope it isn’t another five years before Paul Thomas Anderson delivers his next slice of cinematic endeavour.
Watch the trailer for The Master here: