With such a great consistency, Paul Thomas Anderson is fast becoming one of my favourite directors. He directed the great Daniel Day Lewis through his final film role in the perfect Phantom Thread, and pushed out a stunning serious role for Adam Sandler in the equally as flawless Punch-Drunk Love. His cinematography and style are compelling, with his work so far settling a blend of dramatic tension and incredible camerawork. The Master looks to excel in both, and Anderson is back again with another near masterpiece.
The late and great Phillip Seymour Hoffman provides some of his best work here as cultist leader Lancaster Dodd, who, along with his controlling wife Peggy (Amy Adams), preside over a group who believe in the “new religion”. Welcoming war veteran Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) into the fold, the film follows the trio as they move from city to city, state to state, spreading a message of the end of humanity. It’s a focus on character, how individually they seemingly grow, but more importantly how they riff off of one another, which eventually leads to the inevitable breakdown of order.
It’s what I’ve come to expect from such talented actors. Hailing the return of Joaquin Phoenix after his two-year stint making the miserably mediocre I’m Still Here mockumentary, his return to the world of fiction is a resounding triumph. He plays the role of Freddie Quell so truly superbly, a war veteran suffering from PTSD and other physical ailments. Thrown back into a world he struggles to understand and adhere to, it feels resonant almost of Phoenix’s return to acting. With a lot of energy behind the performance, it’s hard not to lose yourself in how perplexing a character he plays, and how great the chemistry is between Phoenix and Hoffman.
Hoffman is a favourite of mine, his performances in Doubt, Synecdoche New York and Mission: Impossible III had already held him in high standing. But it’s his performance in The Master that impresses me most of all from what I’ve seen from him so far. His manipulation and relationship with Quell is a driving force of the narrative. Under the keen direction of Anderson, the two have share some of the finest scenes in the film, and the relationship between Quell and Dodd exceeds every other storyline offered up.
Not the perfect masterpiece I was expecting, with a couple of pacing issues dragging The Master from its adored spot on top of Anderson’s filmography. Lacking the character depth of Phantom Thread and the style of Punch-Drunk Love, The Master is an exceptional piece of film that will cater to all your Paul Thomas Anderson needs, but for those looking to see Anderson excel in his craft, this one falls a little short.