I saw Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" over a month ago but couldn't bring myself to review it until now. The first time I saw it, I left the theater and went home. Upon my arrival, I was asked for my opinion on the film. I couldn't give one. It had been too soon. Days passed, and still I couldn't decide if I truly enjoyed it or not. But it had stayed on my mind. I can now say it's one of the best films I've seen this year. It is truly a unique piece of work. I've never seen anything quite like it. Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a World War II veteran who drifts through life after the war until he bumps into a group of people led by the charismatic Lancaster Dodd, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.
What can I say about the performances that hasn't already been said? Hoffman is brilliant and such a pleasure to watch on the screen. There's such a sincere element to his character and I thought he genuinely believed he was helping people by having them join The Cause, his new-found religion. Phoenix gives a tour-de-force performance as Freddie; he inhabits the character in and out... just wow. And when the two clash on the screen, it's a dual between two masterful artists at the top of their craft. The scene in particular when Lancaster Dodd "processes" Freddie to learn about his past is so powerful and well done, definitely one of the best scenes in the last few years. I also really enjoyed their final encounter at the end of the film. It was so low-key but also so emotional... two men, so different from each other, yet so attracted to one another. It sounds like a love story, and in some ways it is. Their relationship is the heart of this film.
People may complain "The Master" is long and it is; it definitely takes its time. There's no clear resolution at the end either, which did bother me at first and even now, I wish Anderson would have given us a definitive ending. It's open to interpretation and that will bother a lot of people. But it is a beautifully shot film with a wonderful score by Jonny Greenwood. I have now seen it twice and will try to see it once more before it leaves the cinema. "The Master" is a work of art by one of our greatest filmmakers working in the industry today, Paul Thomas Anderson.