Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” is a Must See

By September 4, 2012
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If “The Master” wasn’t on your shortlist of must-sees this year…it should be.

From its announcement in 2009, Paul Thomas Anderson’s sixth film has been mired in controversy. Until a few weeks ago, when Anderson started to actually speak publicly, he had kept mum about the film’s content and subject matter, despite raising several alarms and controversies after he, at one point off-handedly, mentioned it was inspired by the founding of the Church of Scientology. At the height of the controversy earlier this year, a private screening was held for Tom Cruise, perhaps the Church’s most prominent member (and an Oscar nominee for his work in Anderson’s “Magnolia”). All he would state publicly was that he had “issues” with the film, decidedly allowing it to court even more controversy. In a recent interview with David Ansen, Anderson went on to state, “I was naïve, I should have known that’s what people would latch onto”. Perhaps due to all the hubbub, the film had a lot of trouble even getting into production… after being dropped by Universal, who cited script problems and the proposed 35 million dollar budget, it was rescued by Cinema’s patron saint, Megan Ellison and her production company, Annapurna Pictures.

The Master follows moonshiner Freddy Quell (Jaoquin Phoenix) in his post-WWII wanderings onto the yacht of self proclaimed writer, doctor, nuclear physicist, theoretical philosopher and Man, Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and into his faith-based religion called The Cause.

After a surprise screening at Santa Monica’s Aero Theatre and a benefit screening for Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation at the Music Box in Chicago, the film had it’s official debut at the Venice Film Festival on September 1, and the reaction has been incredible…

“With the arrival of the eagerly awaited “The Master,” Paul Thomas Anderson reaffirms his status as one of the most brilliant and audacious directors working in American cinema today.” – Emanuel Levy of emanuellevy.com

“…A film that is both expansive and intimate, confident and self-questioning. The themes may be contentious, but the handling is perfect. If there were ever a movie to cause the lame to walk and the blind to see, The Master may just be it.”Xan Brooks of The Guardian

“Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master is masterful for sure, as well as enthralling and perplexing. But an argument that will endure for as long as people feel like seeing and talking about the film is whether it adds up to the sum of its many brilliant parts.”Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter

With every review coming out, it’s safe to say this is still very much a must-see, and while some will inevitably be critical towards the film as a whole, a few things are certain, the performances, for one.

Jaoquin Phoenix, making what looks to be the comeback of comebacks, is appearing here for the first time since his lived-in and heavily publicized “retirement” from acting that was chronicled in his brother-in-law Casey Affleck’s film “I’m Still Here”. Already courting awards season buzz as a front-runner, the role was originally given to Jeremy Renner before he bowed out due to scheduling conflicts. At the Venice press conference, Anderson stated that he had thought “about Joaquin being in it” while he was writing the script, and he must have been a bit apprehensive since he had “asked him to be in just about every other movie I’ve made and he’s said ‘no.’ Cause he’s a little bit of a pain in the ass. But it’s worth it. And he said ‘yes’ this time. And thank God he did.” Hoffman, on the other hand, was involved with the film from its inception. Having had a part in every one of the director’s films except 2007’s “There Will Be Blood,” he was instrumental in the crafting of the story, too. Anderson wrote the part of Dodd for his friend and had him read excerpts aloud while he was working on the script. Impressed by her work in such films as “Catch Me if You Can,” “Enchanted” and “The Fighter,” Anderson eventually cast the ever impressive Amy Adams as Mary Sue Dodd, the wife and possible real leader of The Cause. All three, Hoffman and Phoenix especially, are expected to be heavy contenders in this upcoming awards’ season. Adams could also pull off a nomination, as she’s no stranger to buzz herself, and as Mary Sue she is very much playing against type.

Another sure bet and indicator as to the quality being put forth? The individuals working below the line. Except for the two that will undoubtedly be the most talked about, the teams are all headed by Oscar nominees or one-time winners, from costume designer Mark Bridges (“There Will Be Blood,” “The Artist”) to production designer Jack Fisk (“The Tree of Life,” “Phantom of the Paradise”) and editor Leslie Jones (“The Thin Red Line,” “Punch-Drunk Love”). The other two? Unlike the returning Hoffman, Anderson’s regular cinematographer, Oscar winner Robert Elswit, was unable to make it on board due to his commitment to “The Bourne Legacy.” Taking his place is Mihai Malaimare Jr. who, until now, has been best known for shooting Francis Ford Coppola’s last three films, most notably “Youth Without Youth” and “Tetro.”

Fresh off his score for the criminally underrated “We Need To Talk About Kevin,” Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood returns again as composer for The Master. His previous work with Anderson on “There Will Be Blood” is still probably one of the better scores of the past ten years, despite its being ruled ineligible for an Academy Award. Perhaps this will finally get him the nomination.

In a year that was to be cluttered with box office giants (“The Avengers,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “The Hobbit”), indie darlings (“Moonrise Kingdom,” “Sleepwalk With Me”), and Oscar hopefuls (“Lincoln,” “Django Unchained,” “Anna Karenina,” “Les Misrables”), The Master always held the most interest to me. As I was writing this piece, I somehow got even more excited, a feat I didn’t believe possible. I really hope that if you have managed to read this far, that you too might be a bit more amped. I will be seeing the film at the Arclight Hollywood’s midnight screening on the 13th and will post a review shortly thereafter. Until then, here’s the last trailer that will be released.

“The Master” opens in limited release on September 14, and will be expanded on the 21st.

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Jacob Hayman
Jacob's stomach often hurts and his mind often races. He prefers a good drink and chat to most other things in life, his OkCupid is far more active than his Twitter, and Brazil, Gremlins 2, Magnolia, Pather Panchali, and Roman Holiday are his favorite films. He lives in Los Angeles, where he was born and raised, and constantly considers taking up welding.