The Master - Blu-ray Review

'Comparisons to Brando are thrown around with abandon but in the scenes with a psychiatrist, a mumbling Phoenix resembles him and his performance is powerhouse.'

What is The Master? It's a question never asked explicitly by Paul Thomas Anderson's film, yet the suggestion that he who rules over Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) may not actually be cult leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is everywhere.

Returning from the war directionless, Quell is the equivalent of the idiot at a party who mixes every drink on the bar and calls it a cocktail. Alcohol, an early candidate for Freddie's master, plays its part in this narrative and in Freddie's life, causing drunk stumbling through a life now blurry of version.

Parents and relatives too seem to hold sway over Quell's conduct. They crop up often in conversation and their authority is eventually questioned directly by Lancaster's son (Jesse Plemons). Meanwhile, mother figure (and actual mother) Peggy (Amy Adams) seems to have more authority than initially suggested, especially come the end, when her near off-stage direction guides the hand of Dodd, now perched between ornate window of judgement.

Anderson's film was mainly recognised for its performances only and certainly they provide the second reason to watch it, behind the ideas he attempts to explore. Comparisons to Brando are thrown around with abandon but in the scenes with a psychiatrist, a mumbling Phoenix resembles him and his performance is powerhouse. Hoffman gives a flustered, strutting pant, occasionally in control but more often than not out of it. Adams reveals a snake-like crawling at just the right moments.

But despite all that, The Master is a crushingly distant film. Anderson plays everything with such a straight face, such a lack of humanity and humour, that the entirety of Quell's narrative seems to take place on the pages of a book, held at a length of several fathoms from the reader's face. The outstanding Jonny Greenwood score takes over from real emotion and the wake from several travelling ships stands in for more interesting metaphors.

It steams on for far, far too long, wallowing in a disconnected ambiguity it proves impossible to identify with.


  1. I disagree with you on this one, although your review is very well-written and convincing. Not that The Master is one of my favourite movies of last year, but I think it stands out as one of the most interesting. The "distance" you mentioned made everything seem so much sicker and weirder which I personally liked.
    But yes, I understand why some people didn't like it very much.

    1. Thanks Mette, really kind words, especially considering you disagree.

      I know plenty of people like it so clearly many have got more from it than I managed. In a lot of ways I thought it was almost too similar to THERE WILL BE BLOOD, which I loved. Same sort of character descent, which that film told, I just thought the previous film did it much better.