Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Trending On Empire
The Big 2015 Movie Preview
The 50 Best Films Of 2014
Review Of The Year 2014
Subscribe To Empire!
Get 12 issues from just £25
A perfect night in with EE
Win £200 to spend on the perfect night in
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.


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.

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
Remember Me:


Empire States (444)

Under The Radar (335)

Infinite Lives (92)

Small Screen (57)

Words From The Wise (36)

Cannes 2011 (28)

Off The Wire (24)

Comic-Con 2010 (21)

Casting Couch (2)

Oscars 2011 (1)


A chat with Jury chair Lee Daniels & the results of the 11th Dubai Film Festival
By Nev Pierce

Paying the rent, rats and selling out: A lesson from Virginia Madsen
By Nev Pierce

Movies And Medinas: Empire Reports From Marrakech International Film Festival
By Phil de Semlyen

Dubai Film Festival: The unlikely appeal of camel beauty pageants…
By Nev Pierce

Mission: Probable - Dubai's attempt to attract Hollywood
By Nev Pierce

The Dubai International Film Festival: Paul Bettany and Russell Crowe turn directors
By Nev Pierce

Night Visions 2014: The Harvest, Let Us Prey and Nuntius
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2014: Marcos Ortiz and In Darkness We Fall
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2014: Pablo Larcuen and Hooked Up
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2014: The Spanish Contingent
By Owen Williams


Paying the rent, rats and selling out: A lesson from Virginia Madsen
"It's not that long an article, Nev Pierce. It's just our attention spans have got shorter! Really re"  Cookiedough
Read comment

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


Sundance Part Six: In The Loop

Damo's Top Ten Of 2009

Basterds Blog

The Times BFI London Film Festival Preview

Sundance 2010: Four Lions blows everyone away!

Sundance 2010: The Killer Inside Me causes outrage!

Chris Hewitt Of The Year Award!!!!

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

The Wrestler

Where to see Moon...

Damon Wise (298)
Helen O'Hara (181)
James Dyer (86)
Amar Vijay (71)
Ali Plumb (56)
James White (29)
Phil de Semlyen (21)
Owen Williams (21)
Simon Braund (6)
Nev Pierce (5)
Ally Wybrew (2)
Ben Kirby (1)
David Parkinson (1)
Will Lawrence (1)
Dan Jolin (1)
Ian Nathan (1)

The Fast And Furious Franchise's 7 Most Insane Stunts
In ascending order of madness...

Empire's Fast & Furious 7 Review
We run the rule on the return of Toretto, Hobbs and co

Empire Meets Alison Brie
The Get Hard star on Ken Jeong, Toto and her favourite episode of Community

17 ‘What The?’ TV Cameos From Film Directors
From Spike Jonze as a music exec to Peter Bogdanovich as… himself?

Empire Meets Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
On A Second Chance, Game Of Thrones pranks and Headhunters' poo scene

The Secrets Behind 44 Classic Cinema Sound Effects
No really, the Ringwraiths are actually plastic cups...

The 30 Greatest Superhero Movies Of All Time
Empire readers pick their top super flicks

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get 12 Issues Of Empire For Only £25!

Get exclusive subscriber-only covers each month!

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 12 issues of Empire for just £25!
Get exclusive subscriber-only covers each month 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  |  Editorial Complaints  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)