Friday, January 26, 2018

Movie Review: The Master

Paul Thomas Anderson takes on cults and creates a film that conducts some of the best performances of several prestigious performers' careers. Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a listless Navy veteran who is obsessed with alcohol and sex. His obsession is so strong that he continuously finds ways to create alcoholic mixtures using whatever supplies he has available. When he is discharged out of the Navy after World War II, he takes up a job photographing families at a department store. He uses the chemicals to develop pictures to create a cocktail that he imbibes and shares with a saleswoman. He drunkenly starts a fight with a customer and is forced to set out across the country. He finds work as a field hand, cutting vegetables and manages to brew up some hooch for the other workers. When an old man drinks too much of his alcohol, he keels over and dies so Freddie has to sprint away before the other workers can catch him. 

Continuing to wander and flee, he hops aboard a boat that appears to be hosting a party and tries to hide away. He wakes up in a bed and a woman motions for him to follow. He is disoriented but he is brought in front of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), also known as the Master. Dodd interrogates Freddie about why he was hiding on the boat but he also wants to know if Freddie can make the same alcoholic beverage. Freddie claims he can make something even better intriguing Lancaster and earning a spot in his inner circle. Dodd celebrates the wedding of his daughter Elizabeth (Ambyr Childers) with Clark (Rami Malek). Freddie spends the time drinking and hanging around Lancaster's wife Peggy (Amy Adams and his son Val (Jesse Plemons). 

The yacht sets sail and the members of Lancaster's cult do various strange activities though Freddie is more focused on trying to have sex with the female members and continuing to drink. Dodd puts Freddie through intense questioning revealing secrets of his past. The boat arrives in New York and Lancaster Dodd hosted a party where he helps old women, or maybe tricks them, explore their past lives. A skeptic challenges Dodd's belief system and Lancaster grows frustrated while Freddie drunkenly acts out. Freddie seeks out that man at his apartment later and beats him up though he receives a scolding from Dodd when he returns. The group moves on to Philadelphia where their host Helen Sullivan (Laura Dern) invites guests to participate in Lancaster's meditations. 

The police are investigating Lancaster and show up to arrest him when Freddie lashes out and is also arrested. Freddie is angry because Val has hinted that his father is just making up stuff as he goes. Freddie and Lancaster yell at each other in the prison cell until their release. Lancaster confers with Peggy, Elizabeth, and Clark and they devise a plan to correct Freddie's with repeated tests. Lancaster also manages to finish another book that changes some of the details of his religion though he denies that these changes don't make sense. Once it's agreed that Freddie is cured, they play a game of driving a motorcycle off into the distance but during Freddie's turn, he just drives off. He returns to his town where he had fallen in love with a girl before the war but she has moved away and married. Lancaster finds out where he lives and calls him to London where they continue to spread their cult teachings.

The Master drags a little bit but delivers with wonderful performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Joaquin Phoenix. Paul Thomas Anderson denied that the film mocks Scientology but the similarities are undeniable. The film has some beautiful images and shots that are typical of this director's work. While The Master may be my least favorite film of PTA's work, it is still a great film to watch that I will enjoy revisiting several times again in the future. 

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