The Master

A new film from Paul Thomas Anderson is one that I look out for, especially after his last film (There Will Be Blood) got a 5 on 5 from me a few years ago.

Here, Joaquin Phoenix plays the character of Freddie Quell so well it needs no backstory – you’re straight there within a minute. He’s a naval sailor who’s just finished a tour on a pacific island for WWII. His hunched and crocked manner combined with his obsession with alcoholic concoctions tell you all you need to know right away. The early beach setting is beautiful: opal blue sea with the waves crashing on the sandy shore. This soon gives way to a previous time where the period feel in a department store is very authentic and another environment entirely. This then gives way again as Freddie runs away and stumbles across a boat commanded by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). He stows away, hoping to escape his life and find some work as a sailor. We first see Lancaster interrogating him the morning after and they both see a ying to their yang, or perhaps a project, or perhaps nothing but a means to some home-brew and a shag, but either way they are both on the ship for a long time to come.

It promises a lot with the first big exchange (the interrogation over the table) and it never really delivers after that. The characters never really go very far from that point, it just doesn’t live up to the first half an hour. That first period is so well set out, so efficient, so contrasting and then it falls completely flat.

A confrontation with a rational person questioning Lancaster Dodd’s assertions proves funny and one of the stand out scenes to me, but in general it flaps about without deciding on a direction like a flag in the wind, never pointing at one thing and feeling more and more hollow as it goes through. It gets progressively dull and strangely claustrophobic before temporary relief comes in the form of another shot of the pacific beach. The sea looks so beautiful and is such a contrast to the beige, indoor tones we have seen for the past hour and a half it comes as massive visual relief. Sadly we’re back inside again soon, but another voyage out to the salt flats to ride a motorbike offers similar chance to breathe for a minute.

Johnny Greenwood’s score which starts out beautifully plinky-plonky fades into the background as you shuffle in your seat afar 2 hours and 15 minutes waiting for an end which never really comes.

2 on 5

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
UK Release: 16th November 2012