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Early Review: Paul Thomas Anderson's 'The Master' Is Visually Dazzling in 70mm, Enigmatic, Certain to Polarize

by Beth Hanna
August 4, 2012 3:52 PM
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'The Master'

On August 3 at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, moviegoers were treated to a surprise screening of Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" in stunning 70mm. Anderson and wife Maya Rudolph were both in attendance.

The screening was both public and secret -- "The Shining" screened to an almost packed house at 7:30 pm, with an announcement made as the ends credits rolled that any ticketholders were welcome to stay for an encore presentation of Anderson's Venice-selected film. Though 70mm prints have been tested at various theaters around the country for the past couple of weeks (the Aero being one of them), this was the first full screening of the film for an audience, a good month before it premieres in Italy. Reactions soon hit the blogosphere.

"The Master" stars Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, both superb in the film. Twitchy and palpably disturbed, with one eye bulging larger than the other, Phoenix plays adrift seaman Freddie Quell, violent and drunk from practically anything he can procure from the bathroom cabinet. He's sort of a fucked-up early mixologist -- combining photo processing chemicals, paint thinner, etc -- and one of his potions gets a man killed. Frightened and roaming, Freddie hops aboard a glittering wedding party boat, where he meets Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), or "Master" as his waterbound acolytes call him, whose daughter is getting hitched.

Hoffman goes big with this role. His Master is intensely focused, almost cartoonishly charismatic and seductive. But as he brings Freddie into the fold of his teachings, which include pre-birth recordings, past lives and strict emotional self-control, Master proves to be a simmering powder-keg. When he snaps, it jolts you out of your seat. (This nicely matches Johnny Greenwood's percussive, anxiety-inducing score.) Freddie and Master have a symbiotic relationship, where Freddie can feel anchored by Master's stranglehold, and Master can ward off his paranoia (outside groups are increasingly criticizing his methods) by focusing his efforts on such an inscrutable weakling.


  • Rohan | August 7, 2012 1:32 PMReply

    This is by far, one of the best reviews I have read here. Focusing more on the film rather than on its storyline, which is quite precisely put together and avoids spoilers. Rock on, Beth. Looking forward to read more reviews from you. I admire your writing, ma'am.

    Anderson's work is like a postcard, perfect and make sense in all aspects. Human emotions, drama, and not to forget his take on the art of making films. He, truly is a master himself.

  • rgm | August 6, 2012 12:32 PMReply

    Excellent and concise review. I think that fine actress, Laura Dern, may be be in this film also -- or is that a spoiler?

  • Michael Chase Walker | August 5, 2012 3:27 PMReply

    Anderson is brilliant, but as with There Will be Blood, and the hopelessly irredeemable Daniel Plainview, I hope he gives us a reason to actually sit through the movie, and maybe even more than once.

  • ypt | August 5, 2012 4:45 PM

    Michael, I couldn't agree more. It is hard to sit through most of his movies because he is very self-indulgent . The frogs dropping from the sky in Magnolia , and Daniel Day Lewis' constant screaming and yelling, and his painfully over-the-top performance in There Will Be Blood. Boogie Nights maybe the only film of PTA that I enjoyed from beginning to end.

  • Keil Shults | August 4, 2012 7:39 PMReply

    Nice conclusion. Oh wait...

  • karl r. | August 4, 2012 6:17 PMReply

    Who wrote the review? Do they not get any credit??

  • Pete R. | August 4, 2012 4:05 PMReply

    Excellent review! I can't wait to experience this film but sadly I probably won't be able to see it in 70mm. It sounds like another enthralling work of cinema from PTA.

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