The Monocle – “The Master”

Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Released: September 14th, 2012
Theatre watched at: Arclight Cinemas- DOME, Hollywood


Paul Thomas Anderson > Christopher Nolan. Christopher Nolan > Paul Thomas Anderson. Yeah, that seriously was a frequent argument I ran into in the comments section when viewing the trailer for this movie on Youtube. This is one of the many examples of absolutely ridiculous comparisons noobs make on the internet as a poor attempt to boost their own opinions’ morale. However, I appreciate that at least what I think the comparison these people are making is that Anderson and Nolan are two of the top filmmakers today that have clear appreciation for the art of filmmaking, which they are, however, if you’ve seen The Dark Knight Rises and compare it to this movie…THEY ARE COMPLETELY DIFFERENT MOVIES, so don’t think you’ll walk into the theatre seeing Joaquin Pheonix in a cape and Philip Seymour Hoffman blowing cities up.

Paul Thomas Anderson, acclaimed for his films Magnolia and There Will Be Blood, returns from a 5 year hiatus with this post-WWII story about a Navy veteran, Freddie Quell (Pheonix), who resorts to becoming a drifter after the war and stumbles upon an alluring, academic by the name of Landcaster “The Master” Dodd (Hoffman) whose unique, psychiatric help methods entice Freddie to stick with him and assist in aiding the legitimacy of his organization in America where “disbelievers” are out to stop Dodd’s cult-like society of followers.

In terms of solid, quality filmmaking for the sake of telling a story through visuals- The Master is, hands down, one of the year’s best films for its sheer brilliance in photography and masterful acting; you will be mesmerized by this film. Many may see it as some mockery of Scientology, and quite frankly, I don’t really care if it is or not (and Anderson has stated it isn’t), this film is, first and foremost, a character study. Both Pheonix and Hoffman have put everything they got into their roles and what you get is pure magic; I am confident both of them will win at the next Oscars. One particular scene in the movie is worth admission alone, in which Dodd puts Freddie through one of his “tests” for the first time. It’s a sequence of cinematic genius that will surely be referenced constantly in future Film Studies courses. Like they say, acting of the highest caliber is achieved when you completely cease to see the actor playing the character and you simply see the character, as if he/she could realistically exist in our world.

Another star of the show is the captivating cinematography done by Mihai Malaimare Jr., known for working with Francis Ford Coppola on a few of his films. Wow. Just wow. Nearly every shot is carefully composed, from the tight, claustrophobic moments, to the breathtaking, wide exteriors, to the carefully orchestrated tracking shots that really, not only take you to the setting, but show you the art of film photography. I was lucky enough to catch this film in it’s 70mm format, which you can find at both the Arclight Cinema Dome and The Landmark on West Pico, and it is very much worth it to see it larger.

The one very minor itch I have with the film is its plot. Like I said earlier, it’s a character piece, so the lack of a bolted down narrative is more than forgivable, but at the same time, I personally always appreciate a solid plot. The film is so engrossing that you will barely notice that you really aren’t sure where the film is going, and by the end, you realize it finishes quite ambiguously. Regardless, the journey of Quell and Dodd is an amazing, psychological look at humans and how quite funny it all ends up being. The Master is grade-A filmmaking, and while I don’t consider the movie as a whole to become one of the greater classics of all time, I have no doubt it comes very close, and has become one of my favorite movies of its genre.

Bow Tie Approved

Bow Tie Score - 4.5