Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Master

In the waning days of WWII, a bored and somewhat brutish midshipman (Joaquin Phoenix) goofs off with his comrades, and returns home to a listless existence, going from job to job and woman to woman. Then one night, following his most recent drunken debacle,  he stows away on a luxury liner commanded by the leader of a group known as The Cause, and finds himself being drawn in by the hypnotic mystic (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his off-brand, mind altering sect. "The Master" is a technically exceptional film from art house champion Paul Thomas Anderson, probably the finest he has ever filmed, which features a fierce performance from Hoffman, and a career defining one from Phoenix. Amy Adams work as Hoffman's resolute wife also bears mentioning, as her fine performance has bafflingly become lost in the headline grabbing performances of her costars. Despite these accolades, Anderson's narrative is slight and unnecessarily protracted, dragging on much longer than it needs to. There is also a tendency by many critics to search for greater significance in this Scientology inspired fable, when all of its substance is clearly evident on screen, with Anderson never cutting further than skin deep. During a sequence in the film when Hoffman reacquaints Phoenix into his group he states, "this is going to be a long and difficult process." That should have been the tagline for this movie.