Perceived as my most anticipating film of 2012, THE MASTER is Paul Thomas Anderson's ambitious comeback after THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007, 9/10), 5 years interval may be too long for PTA fanboys, but again the wait is unmistakably deserved.
Post-WWII, a USA naval veteran inadvertently hops on a yacht one night and is hooked on a cult named "The Cause", lead by its eloquent yet irascible master, while being an avid follower of the master, his perennial booze-abusive, sex-driven, violent nature enables himself to be the soul needs salvation, a side-kick and a role model, it also encroaches his mental realm and life orientation, eventually challenges his loyalty with The Cause and the master.
PTA's trademark roving and tracking long-shots maintain as engaging as any directors could ever achieve, not obtrusive but impeccably tally with the storytelling; the retro-soaked palette authentically establishes a mystic aura of the inexplicable internal mechanism of how our emotion rises and falls, attended by a rhythmic score from Jonny Greenwood.
Joaquin Phoenix gives me a first impression of Michael Shannon (whose TAKE SHELTER 2011, 9/10 is among my top pick of 2011), in a far gaunter figure, he embodies his character so devotedly and destructively, it is a privilege to appreciate his hunchback stance, the unique way when he speaks (English words evade me now, help?), his exuberance, his furore, his confusion and his determination. The erosive bitterness conceals in his gawky body is compelling and he is a war victim, a damaged good seeking for a rejuvenation, the master and The Cause may or may not cure him, anyhow, he still possess his free will, if only the power of repetition works.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, doesn't need too much physique alternation though, is equally mesmerizing if not too overbearing, his mind-blowing delineation of the master's polarized volatility is another textbook archetype of performance art. Amy Adams, whose fourth Oscar-nomination in 8 years has wrought some dissent here, accomplishes an amazing expressionless supporting performance, her role doesn't require any ostentatious flare-up, but each time her composure and relentlessness exudes disparate feelings from inside (blithe, haughty, disdained, confident, commanding, suspicious, disgusted, etc.), and her "milking the cow"coalition with Hoffman is simply petrifying.
Grabbing only 3 acting nominations (with faint possibility to win any of them), THE MASTER's bumpy Oscar-road is far from triumphant compared with THERE WILL BE BLOOD, but time will testify whether it is an overlooked masterpiece or an elusive piece of self-indulgent, but no matter on which case, one cannot deny that it heralds that PTA is most probably on his way to be the Stanley Kubrick of our generation (not least suggested by the evocative nudity scenes which seemingly pay tribute to the masked orgy in EYES WIDE SHUT 1999, 8/10), and it is a tremendous blessing for all the cinephiles.