Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Search   
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Empire
Trending On Empire
The 301 Greatest Movies Of All Time!
Empire's Guardians Of The Galaxy Cover
Does Star Wars Have A Brain Trust?
Nick Frost:
My Movie Life

The World's End star's pick of the flicks
Subscribe: 6 Issues For £15!
Subscribe today and save 37% off the cover price!
Empire Blogs
Under The Radar

Back to all blogs Comment Now

Venice 2012: The Master

Posted on Saturday September 1, 2012, 12:02 by Damon Wise in Under The Radar
Venice 2012: The Master

The Master is one of those films that takes on a life before anyone has seen it, fuelled by rumour and information of the dis- and mis- kind. Before going any further, I feel duty-bound to say that this film is not in any way “about” Scientology or a takedown of L Ron Hubbard and his pseudo-scientific “religion”. If anything, it is a very old-fashioned love story, forged in the style of Nicholas Ray or, at a push, Douglas Sirk, and should perhaps be regarded as a man's picture of the kind lately being made by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Biutiful) or Jacques Audiard (Rust And Bone).

Where to start? After There Will Be Blood, this is another outstanding technical achievement from Paul Thomas Anderson, and, visually, the film is near faultless. Some felt it a little long, and it does wobble slightly in the second half, but this felt more controlled than its predecessor, at least to me. If TWBB was about the founding of contemporary America in a crucible of greed and violence, The Master is about the healing America needed after its rebound from the Second World War, and the film's special relevance to today involves central character Freddie Quinn (Joaquin Phoenix), a former Marine who is dumped back into society with an insufferable personality disorder and a drink problem fed by a talent for making potent moonshine. After falling about as far as a man can fall, Freddie ends up on a boat belonging (or maybe not) to Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a self-help guru who sees this broken man as the perfect test case for his developing cult.

Dodd does not like the word cult, however, and bats it away; he calls his cause The Cause and he sees himself as a liberator, on a quest to return mankind to its “perfect” default status. The similarities to Scientology founder Hubbard are distinct in this regard; Dodd uses emotive questioning (“processing”) to gain access to his subject's most private thoughts and fears, insists that past-life regression holds the key to the future, and is a very, very, very bad writer. But this isn't about a charlatan, even though this master is seen through at myriad points in the story. Dodd is never fully defrocked or exposed; the only enigma in this movie is why Dodd is doing what he does, and Hoffman portrays him with wit and humour. The socialites who fund him are easy meat, so Dodd, clearly a smart man and a brilliant extemporaneous thinker, perhaps gets a kick out of trying to get through to Freddie, this most base of men, obsessed with sex and quick to violence.

The emotional core of the film, however, is about what Freddie wants, and the crucial line of the movie comes near the beginning, when Freddie is questioned before discharge about a crying fit he was seen to suffer. Freddie claims it was down to nostalgia, a letter from an old friend's kid sister. “I saw a letter, I read it,” he reasons. Freddie's pent-up passion is the motor for the movie, a requisition of an old Hollywood theme used in much the same way as Gus Van Sant used it in Good Will Hunting – likewise The Master is not a film about Scientology, it is a film about a girl, a love Freddie cannot face or deal with and a secret to be prodded and investigated by the curious Dodd.

Aside from Mihai Malaimare Jr's astonishing cinematography and Jonny Greenwood's brilliant score, it falls to Hoffman and Phoenix to sell this story. Both are phenomenal; Phoenix a bent, twisted, unpredictable letch whose naivety betrays him at every turn. Hoffman, meanwhile, is a sweet and avuncular showman whose methods, though unorthodox, do sometimes seem to get results. The ending is a strange one, a far cry from the crescendo of There Will Be Blood, but there's a wordless poetry here that will continue to beguile for quite some time. The Master will not be to all tastes, and there is a lot left out to make space what sometimes feels shouldn't be in, notably a long demonstration of techniques by Dodd in the second half. But this is a film that aspires to brilliance and beauty from a most exceptionally talented director, a sometimes breathtaking work of true modern cinema that explores a very peculiar time and place with wit, humour and emotion.

Login or register to comment.

Comments

1 danielcharlwood
Posted on Tuesday September 4, 2012, 07:14
Finally a real film about real people from a real film maker. Something to wash over you rather than wash off you.

2 UTB
Posted on Tuesday September 4, 2012, 08:32
You wouldn't put it on the cover though, would you? ;)

Log in below, or register to post comments
Username:
Password:
Remember Me:

CATEGORIES

Empire States (439)

Under The Radar (317)

Infinite Lives (92)

Small Screen (57)

Words From The Wise (35)

Cannes 2011 (28)

Off The Wire (24)

Comic-Con 2010 (21)

Casting Couch (2)

Oscars 2011 (1)


RECENT POSTS

Night Visions 2013: The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears, We Are What We Are, Big Bad Wolves
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2013: Jodorowsky's Dune, Nightsatan & The Loops Of Doom
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2013: Adjust Your Tracking (or Does Anyone Actually Miss VHS?)
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2013: Fresh Meat, The Colony, Sawney
By Owen Williams

Film4 FrightFest 2013: Sunday and Monday
By Owen Williams

Film4 FrightFest 2013: Thursday and Friday
By Owen Williams

Bloody Cuts In Conversation
By Owen Williams

European Film Awards 2012
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2012: Silje Reinamo and Thale
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2012: Juan Martinez Moreno and Attack of the Werewolves
By Owen Williams


RECENT COMMENTS

Night Visions 2013: Adjust Your Tracking (or Does Anyone Actually Miss VHS?)
"Or don't..."  Owen Williams
Read comment

Aruba 2013: Juan Francisco Pardo Q&A
"Sadece on altı dakika içinde iyi bir görsel hikaye anlatmak önemli beceri ve bel"  skndrdmr
Read comment

Aruba 2013: Opening Gala
"That really amazing."  ommrudraksha
Read comment

2013 IIFF - The Winners
"Hi Simon, Trying to get in touch with you. Hope this works. I enjoyed your piece on Enter t"  matthewpolly
Read comment

Christoph Waltz will win an Oscar
"although its old now :(, of course he was gonna win it :), one of the many idols of why i wanna be a"  SONYA ALALIBO
Read comment

Brisbane International Film Festival: First Report
"I think it is pretty clear the story revolves around The Blacksmith, in The Man With The Iron Fists,"  owenyunfat
Read comment

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
"Thanks for the feedback! I hope I didn't give the impression that Cloud Atlas is a write-off; I just"  Damon_Wise
Read comment

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
"Hi Damon With regards to Cloud Atlas, I fear that it will face the same problem a"  ChesterCopperpot
Read comment

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
"No worries! I just try to describe things as I see them, and I often forget that, as Empire has grow"  Damon_Wise
Read comment

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
"Don't get me wrong, I appreciate your early reviews from the festivals, and of course, I'm not alway"  pythonlove
Read comment


POPULAR POSTS

Sundance Part Six: In The Loop
13 comments

Basterds Blog
9 comments

Damo's Top Ten Of 2009
9 comments

The Times BFI London Film Festival Preview
9 comments

Sundance 2010: Four Lions blows everyone away!
8 comments

Sundance 2010: The Killer Inside Me causes outrage!
7 comments

Chris Hewitt Of The Year Award!!!!
7 comments

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
7 comments

The Wrestler
6 comments

Where to see Moon...
6 comments


BLOGGERS
Damon Wise (297)
Helen O'Hara (166)
James Dyer (86)
Amar Vijay (71)
Ali Plumb (56)
James White (29)
Phil de Semlyen (19)
Owen Williams (15)
Ally Wybrew (2)
Ben Kirby (1)
Ian Nathan (1)
Dan Jolin (1)
David Parkinson (1)

SPECIAL FEATURE
The 301 Greatest Movies Of All Time EMPIRE READERS' POLL: THE 301 GREATEST MOVIES OF ALL TIME
You turned out in your hundreds and thousands, and here are the results... Browse the full list


CURRENT HIGHLIGHTS
Empire's Guardians Of The Galaxy Review
Our official verdict on Marvel's latest addition to their cinematic universe

Frank Grillo's Ten Toughest Hollywood Tough Guys
The Purge: Anarchy star picks his favourite badasses

Role By Role With Joel McHale
The star of The Soup and Community on Spider-Man 2 and much more

'I Have The Club But I Didn't Get The Lion's Head'
Dwayne Johnson (and pals) talks Hercules props, action and ancient superheroes

Classic Feature: The Making Of The Silence Of The Lambs
Is this the most frightening movie ever made?

Classic Feature: Jack Nicholson - Gods Among Us
Charisma, consistency and cunning summed up in a single word: Jack.

Peter Fonda On Peter Fonda
The Hollywood legend relives his career highlights

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get The 301 Greatest Movies Of All Time Subscribers' Cover

Subscribe today and get the cover and 3 issues for only £10!

Subscribe today

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Get The Empire iPad Edition Today

Subscribe and save maney on annual digital subscription

Subscribe today
Buy single issues

Get 6 issues of Empire for just £15!
Get the world's greatest movie magazine delivered straight to your door! Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire iPad Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  iPad  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)