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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Joaquin Phoenix
Amy Adams.
Directors
Paul Thomas Anderson.
Screenwriters
Paul Thomas Anderson.
Running Time
136 minutes

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The Master
The Sailor! In Adventures With Scientologists!


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Plot
After World War II, Freddie Quell (Phoenix) is discharged from the navy and finds it hard to adjust to civilian life, becoming a rootless, drunk drifter. A chance meeting with Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), leader of a new cult called The Cause, offers him an opportunity to change.


Review
The Master
For a film called The Master, it takes an awful long time for ‘The Master’ to appear. Indeed, it takes nearly half an hour before we meet Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and it is even longer before we find out his name, which is revealed, almost quite shockingly, during a rare interaction with the authorities of the outside world. The plot is negligible, and for a film that has been so much mooted as being ‘about’ Scientology, it says very little about this particular sect’s methods and motivations except that, though they may be bogus and a tad illegal, for some people The Cause might actually work.

This is because Paul Thomas Anderson’s sixth film is a novelistic work of fiction, something critics seem to be having a hard time grasping in these days of comic book adaptations and remakes. It has real-life correlations, definitely, but this is no roman à clef, and there is nothing more to this film than one man’s imagination. It draws from many areas, from Melvin And Howard by Jonathan Demme (still by far the biggest directorial influence on PTA’s work), from the palette of old Hollywood (Elia Kazan’s love story Splendor In The Grass springs to mind), and from the lives of Depression-era author John Steinbeck and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. But the result is an impressionistic patchwork that ebbs and flows, reaching a breaking point rather than a climax in the usual sense.

And like any good book, if you like it, it is a place to revisit. Contrary to popular belief, there’s no ‘need’ to see it twice. There are no hidden meanings here, nothing to “get”, other than perhaps that there is no real master at all, just two sides of the same coin, each looking to the other for the answers. To Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), Lancaster Dodd is literally The Man, with his smart suits and sophistry. But to Lancaster Dodd, Freddie Quell is a thing of savage purity, a man with no aim or conscience and nowhere to be except now. This is what drives the movie, the tension between yin and yang, between ego and super-ego, a symbiosis that has been rather simplistically compared to the father-son relationships that run through all PTA’s movies, beginning with his debut, Hard Eight, in 1996.

That reading is certainly there, and there are definitely echoes of Boogie Nights and Magnolia with, respectively, their surrogate and broken families, but this time there is a stand-off, since both men are, in a curious way, quite equal. Hoffman shows a whole new side to his talents here, being funny, charming and surprisingly light on his feet as Dodd. Phoenix is a little less of a revelation, since Freddie is not a million miles from his 2005 portrayal of Johnny Cash, but that’s not to say his performance is in any way predictable. In fact, it is quite the opposite: tender when it should seem shocking and vice versa, creating a genuinely unreadable and, for that reason, most unlikely hero.

Because, at its core, The Master is really about Freddie and the strange, secret romance that holds the key to his violence and his acting out, something he cannot fathom, much less articulate. This is the true motor of the story and what gives The Master its deceptively subtle power: if there is a third wheel here, it is not Dodd’s tough, business-like wife Peggy (Amy Adams) but the girl at the back of Freddie’s mind, the unfinished business he left behind, not simply because she was too young for him but because her affections overwhelmed and overloaded a very rusty, inexperienced heart.

After the rigours of There Will Be Blood, The Master seems positively light at times, and the ending will disappoint those hoping for a similar last-reel crescendo. But like that stark, intimate epic, it is another film for and of its time, touching on themes of recession, demobilisation and survival in its story of two men trying to make sense of post-war life, one creating a new kind of order, the other simply surfing. America’s withdrawal from Iraq gives it an unintended topicality, since The Master isn’t an allegory, just a very poetic, lyrically shot and seductively scored film about how that country dusted itself down from World War II. In Dodd and Freddie we have two archetypes of the national spirit back then: one is ambitious and entrepreneurial, the other just wants to work and get laid.


Verdict
An often brilliant ’50s-throwback character drama that never feels nostalgic, with terrific central performances and a luminous, unforgettable visual beauty.


Reviewed by Damon Wise

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for The Master
Empire Star Rating

fuck you empire

well i spent about an hour writing my review for what i considered to be the most thought provoking and chalenging films of the last 10 years only to click 'submit' and find my entire review deleted so now im gonna knock off four stars and blame it on empire because im drunk. in all seriousness though, perfectly shot beautiful soundtrack and career best performances all round (although can seem quite pretentious but without ever taking sides enough to be preachy) if it delets this time im f... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by RLTShirley at 02:47, 23 March 2014 | Report This Post


Good but not great!

There is no way on earth this is a 5 star film. It was far too long and tried so hard to be (as my shoreditch friend from work would say) Kooky! There is no denying that phoenix and hoffman are both excellent and it certainly had its moments but compared to a few other PTA films like There will be blood, punch drunk love and epecially Boogie Nights, I really thought this was average at best. C+ (must try harder) ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by guysalisbury at 13:45, 02 July 2013 | Report This Post


WORTH SEEING.....

Remember that old Alec Guinness quote from Star Wars? “ Who’s the more foolish? The fool or the one who follows him?” It’s post world war 2 and some people were at a loose end and looking for answers. They’d follow any old crackpot – as long as they were happy and successful and had a true sense of belonging. Most people can identify with ideas of depression and social alienation which seem to be the two major themes presented here. Of the actors, Phillip Se... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ROTGUT at 17:27, 17 June 2013 | Report This Post


WORTH SEEING.....

Remember that old Alec Guinness quote from Star Wars? “ Who’s the more foolish? The fool or the one who follows him?” It’s post world war 2 and some people were at a loose end and looking for answers. They’d follow any old crackpot – as long as they were happy and successful and had a true sense of belonging. Most people can identify with ideas of depression and social alienation which seem to be the two major themes presented here. Of the actors, Phillip Se... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ROTGUT at 17:27, 17 June 2013 | Report This Post


Same old Empire

Pretentious wankery of the highest order, coming to expect thid from most 5 star Empire films ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by david hayes at 15:52, 13 March 2013 | Report This Post


Uneven, offbeat, yet beautifully shot and stunningly acted. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by danfacey711 at 20:12, 12 March 2013 | Report This Post


tp://www.imdb.com/title/tt1560747/?ref_=sr_1]The Masterinally there was another Paul Thomas Anderson film. And what a great one it was! Again it`s something very special, as we`ve come to expect from him. It`s slow, it has a bit of a stranger vibe and is being carried for the full two hours by the acting masterclasses by Phoenix and Seymour Hoffman. What a brilliant performances those two give!! The one isn`t necessarily better than the other, both are brilliant. Insane. Amy Adams shouldn`t be... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheGodfather at 21:48, 22 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Emperor's New Clothes

L: vladimirimp 5 stars? You've got to be kidding. This was the most pretentious film I have seen in a very long time. I happened to see it in a theatre in the US some weeks ago, with a bunch of movie buffs working in the film industry - Oscar winners actually. So when it thankfully ended I wondered if perhaps I'd missed something. Maybe it was too high brow for me? Maybe you need to be REALLY into films to enjoy it. No. They all thought it was utter twaddle. Great visuals, yes. A... More

Posted by ElephantBoy at 21:09, 13 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: LISTOWEL CINEMA FILM CLUB-- january 31

I'm a huge PT Anderson fan, I think he's one of the best directors working today and I think a lot of his stuff verges on pure brilliance (Magnolia for example). This is probably his least accessible film to date, it's hardly got a narrative and is pretty much a character/actor driven piece of film making. It has moments of that brilliance, but for me it didn't fully engage me in the way his other movies did. It's still a pretty damn fine piece of film making though. The performances are w... More

Posted by Coyleone at 01:10, 10 February 2013 | Report This Post


LISTOWEL CINEMA FILM CLUB-- january 31

we all know day lewis will win the oscar for LINCOLN but after watching joaquin phoenix in the master i think he should win it is the kind of performance deniro used to give an actor really pushing the limits amazing stuff ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bill the butcher at 06:47, 02 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: The Master

I really should have seen this when I had the chance. ... More

Posted by OPEN YOUR EYES at 14:32, 24 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: The Master

L: Qwerty Norris L: demoncleaner best is an Sound Studio way. Everyone spare a thought for wee British Peter Strickland who has made 2 humble internationally based masterpieces, off his own entire bat with his first two. Empire should rightly celebrate Ben Wheatley as a wry, cult, alternative, but I think wee Mr. Strickland is a burgeoning, unassuming wee master who can do "Cinema" (with a capital C) for "Real" with a capita R-rrrar!". Please give him the attention he de... More

Posted by demoncleaner at 02:17, 05 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Master

L: demoncleaner best is an Sound Studio way. Everyone spare a thought for wee British Peter Strickland who has made 2 humble internationally based masterpieces, off his own entire bat with his first two. Empire should rightly celebrate Ben Wheatley as a wry, cult, alternative, but I think wee Mr. Strickland is a burgeoning, unassuming wee master who can do "Cinema" (with a capital C) for "Real" with a capita R-rrrar!". Please give him the attention he deserves, otherwise he'll gr... More

Posted by Qwerty Norris at 10:59, 01 December 2012 | Report This Post


Boring

About half way through this film Joaquin Phoenix character is trapped inside a prison cell next to Seymour Hoffman's character and keeps yelling "Shut the F**K up!!" over and over. That's how I felt throughout the entire film. Scenery properly chewed, dull, almost pointless characters, pretentious beyond words. And that's coming from someone who enjoyed Days of Heaven, which you could level the same at. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by richardpettet at 11:22, 30 November 2012 | Report This Post


Paul Thomas Anderson Does It Again

Probably the most fulfilling film I've seen this year, The Master is a classy and passionately told story about an affected war vet who comes under the instruction of the eponymous 'master'. First and foremost, the performances are stellar- if Joaquin Phoenix doesn't win anything for this performance it will be a sad day in motion picture history. The story is typically Anderson, contrived and involving, even if it is a little lite this time.The theme of the 50s is well realized, the characters ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by blaud at 12:22, 29 November 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Master

Yes, I'd just like to go on record of re-recording my thoughts on The Master and take this opportunity to cast misgivings on any petty misgivings I initially had about it and say I think it's an absolute masterpiece. I wasn't much of a fan of PTA's earlier work, I almost had a binary response to his films: Hard Eight was pretty decent (I saw it after Magnolia). Boogie Nights I just thought was "meh", I only saw it once, like David St Hubbins would say it just never passed my transum...I had ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by demoncleaner at 02:12, 29 November 2012 | Report This Post


The Master is an extremely esoteric and enigmatic character study that somehow manages to remain strangely gripping, even though, as PTA himself has pointed out, it's extremely low on narrative. For this reason, I can completely understand why many people won't take to it. The driving force is the characters, and if the performances aren't enough to draw you in, you may find yourself lost in a story-less void grasping for something to invest yourself in. Fortunately for me I did find the char... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Whistler at 12:49, 25 November 2012 | Report This Post


RIVETING STUFF!!!!

A quite masterful tale from writer director Paul Thomas Anderson. It revovles around deserter and drifer Freddie Quell discharged from the Navy and on route to total self destruction,...until he meets enigmatic 'Cult' Leader Lancaster Dodd and his Cause Committee. What plays is a great character study of at times repulsive, arrogant and selfish Freddie Quell as he illegally boards a ship on route to New York on one of his many drunken binges and Meets Dodd after packing his job in typicall... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Ramone87 at 18:29, 23 November 2012 | Report This Post


Dismal and Pretencious

Really like Andersons other movies. Really enjoyed " There will be Blood ". The music score was interesting but the film became very tedious and difficult to sit through after an hour. The rating of 5 stars by the critics here and other strong reviews is a case of high brow intellectual Spiffing. The movie seems aimless and lost like the characters in it. It's about L Ron Hubbard. Everyone knows it is but this is deniedby the makers and anderson. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dinkydog at 11:51, 22 November 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Most Satisfying Film I've Seen All Year

L: Nicky C This is the only film all year that's managed to get an emotional response out of me and I'm not sure why some think it pretentious. For me, The Dark Knight Rises was pretentious because it pretended to be grand and epic and 'important' but had very little substance beneath it. The Master is the opposite. It's subtley, beautifully played out and has a lot under the hood. I honestly came out of it thinking how the themes of the film are present in my life. I didn't necessaril... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Filmfan 2 at 11:29, 20 November 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Master

Far & away the least accessible PT Anderson film to date, with a pair of towering performances by Hoffman & Phoenix who convey a "story" about the powers & fragilities of beliefs, brain-washing & the process of seeking answers to questions one cannot ever hope to successfully respond to - something which no doubt resonates with any person or society (particularly of those in the states) dealing with the immediate aftermath of the trials & tribulations of the Second World War. Extremely impressi... More

Posted by Qwerty Norris at 14:26, 19 November 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Master

L: UTB L: demoncleaner Celebrating the technical for a minute I thought Joaquin Phoenix (a screen presence I've never relished) was phenomenal. The Oscar's his right? I mean it to be, once again we're watching one of those total character immersal things, and it's thrilling to think this comes from someone no one really considered a masterful character actor. bsolutely agree with this. I've never been a fan of Phoenix particularly (U-Turn aside) and thought exactly the s... More

Posted by adambatman82 at 15:54, 18 November 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Master

One of those occasions where in spite of the great soundtrack, first class acting talent and cinematography I cant say I enjoyed this. I honestly just couldn't 'get' this at all. I even found The Tree of Life more accessible. Felt like a slow boat to China. ... More

Posted by BelovedAunt at 15:34, 18 November 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Master

L: demoncleaner Celebrating the technical for a minute I thought Joaquin Phoenix (a screen presence I've never relished) was phenomenal. The Oscar's his right? I mean it to be, once again we're watching one of those total character immersal things, and it's thrilling to think this comes from someone no one really considered a masterful character actor. bsolutely agree with this. I've never been a fan of Phoenix particularly (U-Turn aside) and thought exactly the same. ... More

Posted by UTB at 14:41, 17 November 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Master

Writing this a half hour after a first viewing I'm drawn to say it probably doesn't quite score the full marks with me, which feels even odd for me to say it since I know I haven't seen a film this year with scenes as mesmeric and electrifying that just seemingly proliferate (certainly in the first two thirds) of The Master. If I have a qualm with the completeness of the package it's ironically embedded in the probability that Mr. Anderson as director-as-story-teller is just too good, ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by demoncleaner at 22:56, 16 November 2012 | Report This Post


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