Film review: The Master (4 out of 5 stars)

Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master.
Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master.

Thankfully among the numerous big Hollywood blockbusters each year there are usually a few movies that require an audience to think for itself.

There’s nothing wrong with sitting in a cinema and being guided through a plot - we all like to ‘switch off’ and be entertained on occasions.

But the film industry needs to stretch itself and there are directors ready, willing and able to keep an audience on its toes.

Paul Thomas Anderson is one such man.

He’s hardly prolific, but when his movies do arrive they grab the attention (eg Magnolia, There Will Be Blood).

Despite criticism from various quarters, this film is so much more than a side-swipe at ‘cults’ and their leaders.

It’s an examination of how individuals can manipulate others, how friendships can be used and the power of personality.

It has to be said many of us might not have been able to sit through the 144 minutes were it not for some of the best acting around.

Joaquin Phoenix as the manipulated former Naval veteran Freddie Quell is quite incredible and deserves a bunch of awards.

Philip Seymour Hoffman never seems to give anything less than a perfect performance and is also stunning in the title role.

The director has said there’s not really a plot to the movie but for what it’s worth the storyline is as follows.

Quell, suffering from the stress of fighting in the second world war, attempts to build a life in civvy street.

But his heavy drinking and short temper mean he becomes an outcast.

That is until he is welcomed into the life of The Master, a highly intelligent man who has put forward controversial views of life and has several influential followers.

Attempts are made to sort out Quell’s life but will he ever be able to take control of his own future?

This movie is a film student’s delight. Anderson’s technique is incredible, with long close-ups and very strong visuals (all shot in 65mm format).

Jonny Greenwood’s (of Radiohead) music is also as adventurous as the movie itself.

In fact The Master is perhaps too much to absorb in one go and checking it out later on DVD may well reveal other aspects (eg is the audience only seeing the whole movie through Quell’s eyes?).

This isn’t a comfy night out at the movies but it is a pleasant change to see the medium used to something near its full potential.

Film details:

The Master (15) 144mins.

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams

Screening courtesy of Cineworld Crawley

Steve Payne