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

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood August 4, 2012 at 3:52PM

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.
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'The Master'
'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.

This article is related to: The Weinstein Company, Reviews, Paul Thomas Anderson, Reviews


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.