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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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Formally, "The Master" is gorgeous. 70mm is the way to see the film, if possible. Anderson nails the punchy colors of early 1950s America (a sequence in which Freddie snaps family photos of wholesome, scrubbed youngsters is particularly spot-on), but also the piercingly bright light of the ocean and waterside towns. A recurring shot of the electric blue water in a ship's wake, like the film's score, serves as a punctuation point after Freddie's emotional breakthroughs.

Stylistically and tonally, "The Master" is of a piece with "There Will Be Blood." The score, the editing rhythms and the simmering violence of the two central characters recalls Anderson's last feature and its monstrous Daniel Plainview. Where "The Master" differs from "Blood" is its narrative drive. Daniel Plainview has a relentless focus that steers the film down a clear-cut, tragic path. Freddie, however, is hazy and aimless, and this film largely takes its structural cues from those meandering characteristics. Many sequences are focused on Master's experimentation on Freddie, vignettes comprised of forced repetition exercises seemingly without end. But does all the drawn-out head-bashing help Freddie? This is what the film is asking.

One last thing: Though much attention will be rightly paid to Phoenix and Hoffman, Amy Adams as Master's wife may have the most revelatory character. Without giving too much away, Anderson cleverly includes a few scenes that cause the viewer to re-think the power structures in Master's universe. It is the 1950s, after all, and wives must stand dutifully beside their husbands, even if something rather different is going on behind the scenes. In this regard, Adams' quiet strength as an actress works beautifully.


  • 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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