Cameron's Review of The Master
Who's the master, Leroy? Well, it's sho'nuff somebody, but I can't tell if it's Philip Seymour Hoffman or Jack Black, because it hasn't been long enough since "Bernie" for me to not look at Hoffman with a moustache and not think of him as a blonde Jack Black. Y'all sigh, but there is something of a resemblance between Hoffman and Black when facial hair comes into play, though the similarities between Hoffman and Black aren't as striking as the similarities between Jesse Plemons and both Hoffman and Matt Damon, who just had to have participated in a dual cloning experiment at some point (A meth lab in "Breaking Bad" must not be the only thing that's getting Plemons' career going). Man, I bet y'all are just itching for me to comment about the similarities between Hoffman's Lancaster Dodd character in this film and L. Ron Hubbard, but come on, people, this film is clearly not inspired by the life of Hubbard, because although Dodd looks and acts like Hubbard, is starting a cult-I mean, new belief system in the early 1950s, and parallels Hubbard in a number of other different ways, he tried to kill Tom Cruise in "Mission: Impossible III", and you wouldn't be a very good Scientologist if you were to kill Xenu. Really, if anyone's origin story is being told in this film, it's Popeye's, because if you think that Joaquin Phoenix's eccentric, cockeyed sailor character is crazy enough when drunk, I dare you to see what kind of damage he'd do if he had some spinach. Seriously though, I can't tell who I'm more excited to see make a comeback, a moustache on Philip Seymour Hoffman (You think that Hoffman looks like Jack Black from "Bernie" in this film, you should see him as Lester Bangs) or a certain someone who can never again grow a full moustache (Oh man, that picture of Phoenix during his faux burn-out stage with a woodsman beard, complete with a moustache that cuts off halfway along the upper lip is both the saddest and funniest thing). Of course, I must say that it is quite nice to see that Paul Thomas Anderson is still alive, and it helps that he still knows how to make a good film, as this effort will tell you, though not quite as much as I was hoping it would, and for quite a few reasons.
Paul Thomas Anderson certainly has a formula, but is pretty diverse in a lot of ways, with pacing being one of his most dynamic and problematic directorial touches, as Anderson has made slow films, relatively fun films, and even uneven films, with this effort being about as uneven in pacing as any P.T. Anderson film, being often tight, if not almost montage-quick in its clip, and sometimes pretty dry, surprisingly not to where you get the dull spells found in previous P.T. Anderson effforts, but certainly to where blandness ensues and momentarily disengages. Of course, as irony would have it, it's certain spells of consistent happenings that disengage the most, as well as prove to be the most inconsistent moments in pacing, as there will be times in which the film will slip into a, if you will, "loose montage", which compresses events too tightly, to where expository depth suffers, but still makes room for artistic meditations upon nothing but fat around the edges, until, after a while, steam is lost, the momentum of the film is stopped cold, and you find yourself thrown way off. The film's first act is rich with these problematic loose montages, which thin out in quantity quite a bit during the film's body, but that just adds to pacing unevenness, broken up when the film slips back into its overdrawn meditations upon nothingness, which are, in all honesty, not the only times in which the film drags out, for although the film is tighter than I heard certain people say it was, excess material, and quite a bit of it, can be found throughout this film. Considering the weight of this film's very intriguing story concept, on paper, a near-140-minute runtime seems perfectly reasonable, but in the long run, this film outstays its welcome in a lot of parts, thus it must even things out and bring it down to its conceptually reasonable runtime by doing what I feel undercuts this film's potential the most: tighten up exposition, because as fleshed out as this film is, I feel as though there's more time lost than excess material gained in the final product, whose potential for rich expository depth is betrayed by the glossing over of certain story segments that could have made this film every bit as, if not more exceptional than "There Will Be Blood", but are much too tightened up for this layered story to deliver on full impact. Pacing is all over the place, and when the film isn't overblown, it's trimming down much too much on development that could have made the transitions between this film's pretty dynamic story layers more organic, thus making for a very uneven film, though perhaps by design, as Anderson's sloppy storytelling feels deliberate, as though aimlessness and a sense of insanity are trying to be conveyed through a challengingly ambiguous narrative that could have worked, though not quite with this subject matter, which deserves more dramatic flesh-out and less intricate stylizing. If nothing else is wrong with this film, then it is overambition, something that I can't entirely blame Anderson for having, as this film is extremely promising on paper, but when it comes to execution, while there are, in fact, brilliant moments to break up some consistent degree of strength, on the whole, the final product's narrative is too uneven, undercooked, overblown and altogether overstylized for its full potential, either as a psycholocial style piece or an extensive character drama, to go realized. What could have been one of the best films of 2012, if not the decided best film of P.T. Anderson's entire career ends up being yet another flawed, overambitious and improvable Anderson effort that, regardless of its shortcomings, still rewards at the end of the day, for although much to be desired can be found within this film, there is an even greater supply of strengths to prove to be enough to get the film by as generally pretty strong, at the very least, musically.
Much like P.T. Anderson's previous efforts, this film is hardly consistent in its usage of music, but when musicality is finally brought into play, we're faced with either fine tunes from the '30s to '50s, or Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood's very imaginative and excellent score (At least Greenwood can make some kind of good music), which, I must admit, is sometimes monotonously misused as a supplement to the film's deliberately sloppy atmosphere, - especially during the meditative loose montages that typically drag the most relatively disconcertingly overstylized spots in Greendwood's score out to nearly no end - but generally quite strong, with dynamicity and a kind of elegant sloppiness that isn't too sloppy, just unconventional enough to feel genuinely unique, though not at the expense of good old-fashioned modern classical sensibilities. The film's musical artistry is nothing short of commendable, though not quite as commendable as Mihai M?laimare, Jr.'s photographic artistry, which brings P.T. Anderson's distinct style to particularly remarkable life, boasting with an old-fashioned, almost Technicolor-esque play with scope that neatly captures the range of this film's environment, while still keeping intimate enough in its focus on specific points in the camera len's path for you to really absorb M?laimare's stunningly crisp and detailed coloring and lighting. The film's storytelling style may not always work, but musical style and visual style are consistently upstanding, and such artistry powers the liveliness of this film, but at the end of the day, what really compels you is the film's much too often betrayed story concept, which is rich with promise that, in execution, fails to go achieved, but not to where this film's subject matter doesn't still earn your investment, especially when backed up by undeniable strengths in P.T. Anderson's script, which may be all over the place, but is consistent in some degree of intelligence, with intriguing thematic depth and intricacies, as well as quite a few unique notes, most of which are unfortunately of a problematically stylish nature, but nevertheless refreshing enough to make Anderson's script almost as commendable as Anderson's direction. As much as I complain about Anderson's direction, on the whole, this film's storytelling flaws are intentional, and while flaws such as these are considerable enough to hold the film back from excellence, and certainly hold Anderson's directorial performance from exceptional, on its own level, Anderson's storytelling impresses, playing with style, as well as Leslie Jones' and Peter McNulty's clever editing to sometimes give the film a kind of hypnotic psychological engagement value that augments intrigue that can be found throughout this film, until broken up by the all too occasional piece of emotional resonance that should have been more recurring in this film, but is just present enough to replenish your investment, at least up to a point. I really can't see myself ever truly loving this film like I loved "There Will Be Blood", whose story concept wasn't even as promising as this film's, but this is a film that is with excellent moments, including excellent latter acts, and should be seen several times to be truly appreciated (Yeah, I'm hard to impress and still going to get the Blu-Ray of a film I don't love; what of it?), as it is so layered and intricate, with storytelling touches by Anderson that hardly work consistently, but ultimately prove to be cerebrally engrossing enough to make the final product rewarding and worth your time, and it helps that Anderson's directorial performance is hardly the only commendable performance in this film, which is at least consistent in one aspect: upstanding performances, from the lovely Amy Adams as the devoted, but also mysterious and disturbed wife of a mad man, to the man behind the very mad man in question, Philip Seymour Hoffman, a strong talent who has stood out in plenty of other films, but doesn't always recieve the material that he should, which of course makes it all the more satisfying to see Hoffman deliver on a truly great performance in this film, in Hoffman effortlessly delivers on exceeding charisma, as well as a disturbed, yet sophisticated and subtly layered presence that sells you on the hypnotic power of and disturbing mystery behind the Lancaster Dodd character, an intriguingly powerful force who is charged by Hoffman's phenomenal performance, and shares sparkling chemistry with our lead Freddie Quell character, an even more well-portrayed force. Joaquin Phoenix is one of today's great actors, and if he proved that with nothing else, then it was with his recent mind-blowing stunt of seemingly dropping out of the film industry to become a burn-out has-been, only to come back almost two years later to reveal that the whole thing was a hoax for the mockumentary "I'm Still Here", which was underwhelming, but boasted a phenomenal lead performance by Phoenix as "himself", so if nothing else excited me about seeing this film, it was Phoenix's comeback, which, unlike the rest of the film's particularly promising aspects, went above and beyond my hopes, as Phoenix stands out once again, not just from this cast, but pretty much from the entire acting industry in 2012, being heavily layered and emotionally powerful in his fearless, human and all around enthrallingly committed portrayal of a frustrated and unstable soul who has lived through horrors, both within and beyond the warzone (Even if you're sailor, you're going to come back from the war messed up), and is desperately seeking for a place to belong. Whether it be the soul-crushing scene in which the Freddie Quell chracter grows more and more intensely emotional as he finds himself tortured, then eventually cleansed by questions about his background during an interview with Dodd, or any near-terrifying sequence in which Quell's PTSD and addictions really rear their ugly heads into things, there are plenty of golden moments in Phoenix's performance, which raises the bar for the best performance, not just by an actor of 2012, but by any performer of 2012 that I'm honestly not expecting anyone else to top (If only Phoenix didn't talk trash about the Oscars; welcome to DiCaprio's world), and helps in carrying this film, which hangs on the hinges of excellence, but never slips out of mere goodness, having too much of its potential undercut by overambition and plenty of other issues, which still aren't enough to drown out what is done right in this film, which rewards just enough to be well worth a watch, or maybe even a rewatch.
In the end, a promising project goes plagued by unevenness in pacing, if not narrative style entirely, which is still consistent enough in dragging to bloat the film, while exposition issues dilute dramatic impact that Paul Thomas Anderson is clearly intentionally tampering with through deliberate overstylizing in storytelling that doesn't always work and sparks enough overambition to leave the film feeling not quite as assured or strong as it should be, which isn't to say that this film isn't compelling, because regardless of its many shortcomings, the final product catches your ears with excellently dynamic and unconventional score work by Johnny Greenwood, and your eyes with Mihai M?laimare, Jr.'s fine cinematography, while, albeit betrayed, but nevertheless promising subject matter, brought to life by high points in P.T. Anderson's writing and direction, and carred by strong performances, - especially those of the great Philip Seymour Hoffman and phenomenal Joaquin Phoenix - that is strong enough to make "The Master" an intriguing psychological drama that may not be what it could have been, but is still reasonably rewarding.
3/5 - Good