Review: The Master

The Master

  • Starring:  Joaquin Phoenix (The Village), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote), Amy Adams (The Fighter) and more.
  • Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, There Will Be Blood)
  • Synopsis: “A striking portrait of drifters and seekers in post World War II America, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master unfolds the journey of a Naval veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) who arrives home from war unsettled and uncertain of his future — until he is tantalized by The Cause and its charismatic leader (Philip SeymourHoffman).” (-Collider)
  • Rated: Rated R for alcohol usage, sexual references and content, graphic nudity and strong language.
  • Trailer:

Every year, it seems, there are a few movies that gather all sorts of buzz prior to the Academy Awards season. All of the post-film festival hype and hoopla contributes to the growth of the “Gotta See It” factor. Films such as The Artist, The Tree of Life, Shame, The Raid: Redemption, Drive, Melancholia and so on are critically praised and thus become immediately catapulted to the front of the line in film lover’s queue. Sometimes the critics are spot on with their assessments…and sometimes one can only wonder if the movie they later watched was the same just in title alone.

Deserving of highest praise or not, the films that receive such attention are recipients of it for one reason or another. This year, critics raved about Looper and The Master. Below are my thoughts on the latter.

The Master is a beautiful film. Not necessarily beautiful in its long and rather confusing message, but in how it was filmed. Everything about it was done very well: the acting, the cinematography, the soundtrack, the look and feel. Unfortunately, the story was not executed as proficiently in terms of (1) the story’s pacing, and (2) the story’s portrayal.

In a style very similar to that of drawn-out dramatic directors Terrence Malick and Lars Von Trier, Anderson’s The Master plays out in a fashion that takes an already long movie and makes it seem even longer. A longer movie would be acceptable if the events that take place move with a sense of time, progression, and urgency; however, Anderson fills the time with relevant, yet mildly unnecessary, scenes that allow a deeper look into the minds and lives of the characters.

It’s one of those films that you know you should probably be liking because “the critics do” blah blah blah so on and so forth, but for me it felt too much like a Terrence Malick film in that it is beautiful, yet drawn out dreadfully long, goes almost nowhere, and lies victim to the artistic endeavor’s attempt to combine art with film. So, when you end up not really liking it…or not really sure…you start to wonder.

Starting out with snippets that very quickly land the idea that Phoenix’s character is a drifter without direction, enslaved to the bottle, and derelict in both duty and responsibility, The Master sets the tone early with a bit of shock mixed with question-inducing actions on screen. Joaquin Phoenix plays the role of a alcoholic man who is lost in life and is convincing in playing the part of a broken man searching for more in life.

As a matter of fact, ALL of the actors are overwhelming convincing in their respective roles:

Philip Seymour Hoffman is the strong, overpowering, charismatic, commanding, almost Orson Welles-ish type leader (Lancaster Dodd) of the skeptically scrutinized group known as “The Cause,” and his attraction the the seeking mind of Freddie Quell (Phoenix) is both tremendous and troubling.


Amy Adams plays Dodd’s wife and is essentially his equal. Determined, demanding, subtle, yet powerful, she maintains an impressive scene presence and greatly contributes to the wide mix of characters in the story.

The Master paints an impressive portrait that shares a deeper look into organizations and “cult-ish” movements that were rampant during the post-WWII era. Though it defends its stance in not bashing Scientology, parallels can easily be made.

A few things put me off in terms of enjoying this movie:

1 -The pacing (as mentioned before, Anderson seemed to take notes for this from Lars von Trier and Terrence Malick). The film could, and should, have ended far before it did.

2. The seemingly unnecessary. Certain scenes, events, and songs sung are input and do little to appear necessary to the film, short of adding to its sense of eccentricity. Perhaps that was the point, but much goes without explanation or follow through (including several scenes of strong sexuality and/nudity that seemed to come from left field).

3. The unpredictability. Most times, this is a good thing, but in this instance, it worked against the film in that one may watch through it and still be frustrated in not knowing where in the world the movie is headed. Leading to an ending that leaves the same feeling.

4.. The ending. Intriguing as it was, it ends in a way that makes almost the entire viewing experience that just transpired all for naught. At the end of it all I wondered what it all then even meant to the characters, how they developed or didn’t, and the story as a whole.

We follow The Master and an overzealous follower on a journey that takes us everywhere, yet nowhere, at the same time. All that being said, the performances are what will drive this movie to Academy Award fame.

So powerful and engrossing. Here’s a sample.

I wish I could tell you that I really enjoyed this movie. I enjoyed a lot about it, but the movie itself…not so much. It is hard to rate such a film with so many great elements, yet so few explanations and pertinence. Ultimately, I recommend it to those that are a fan of von Trier, Malick, and such like, and thus feel the draw to do so. I also recommend it to those who pride themselves on being knowledgeable on all the non-wide release films during award season. However, I do not recommend it to many more than that.

That’s just my opinion. And I know that I may very well be in the minority in the “movie-reviewing community,” but, hey! what can you do?

Did you see it? What’s your opinion?

Score:  2 out of 5 stars for The Master

Thanks for reading! Happy Watching!

T, The Focused Filmographer


  1. You focus too much on the “Story” my friend. Not every movie puts the plot at the center of things. This is a character driven movie that is much more concerned with exploring themes and ideas than taking the audience from point A to point B via a story.

    I hope you’ll find time at some point to stop by and read my take on it. Its also posted today. Normally I’d say something like Great Minds think alike, but in this case, apparently, we dont. 😀


    • I agree with you, but in the end I felt cheated in that through it all there wasn’t even any true character development. It reverted exactly to where we met them all. I look forward to your review. I can read everyone’s now that finished mine! Thanks for commenting man. Always a pleasure


  2. It seems like we had the exact same feelings T. I think everything else besides the story was high quality. I just have no urge to really watch it again. Not Anderson’s best.


  3. I really loved this one, though I guess it isn’t for everyone. I thought the performances and direction were superb. The story really brought me in, but I can see it as off-putting. Nice review.


  4. […] The Master- The Paul Anderson film that received a polarizing reception and a few Oscars nominees finally makes its way to blu-ray. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams (all of whom received Oscar nominations for their roles), The Master is the story of a wayward man who seeks and believes he has found meaning when he joins a group of believers called The Cause who follow the teachings of a charismatic leader. I did not enjoy this one as much as others, but perhaps you will see it and think differently. You can check out my full review of The Master HERE. […]


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