The Master Review: Don’t Blink

First movie I've reviewed that has actual Rorschachs in it!

First movie I’ve reviewed that has actual Rorschachs in it!

It’s about damn time that I got around to seeing this one.  Released last September, The Master has racked up piles of acting nominations and enjoyed a healthy amount of critical if not necessarily commercial success (the film only made back about half of its $32 million budget in the domestic box office).  Nevertheless, if you were to have me list the most disagreed-upon film of 2012 I would not hesitate to name The Master as the front runner of that category.  As you can see in the reviews below, there appears to be no such thing as middle ground on this movie;  those who have seen it have either loved it or hated it.  Based on descriptions I’ve heard from people who had seen it, I guessed that I would end up falling into the latter group.  While the lack of any real plot prevents me from fully exalting the film, the sheer strength of the Phoenix and Hoffman’s performances make The Master one of the most stirring (if not necessarily exciting films) of 2012.

The Plot:

Stupid is as Stupid does

Stupid is as Stupid does

A Naval veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) arrives home from war unsettled and uncertain of his future – until he is tantalized by The Cause and its charismatic leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Aaaaaand that’s about it.  There are a lot of great character confrontations and things happen left and right, but nothing in the film follows any sort of course.  It doesn’t build towards any sort of climactic event or revelation, it simply keeps going until the credits start rolling almost out of nowhere.  I will at least say though that I wasn’t nearly as bothered by the length as some people have been.

The Players:

With a cast like this, you’d expect the acting to be spectacular and you wouldn’t be disappointed.

Fun Fact, Phoenix gave himself Scoliosis to play this part

Fun Fact, Phoenix gave himself Scoliosis to play this part

Joaquin Phoenix has built up a reputation for himself outside of his on screen appearances as, let’s say… eccentric.  Regardless of what you think of the man though, you have to give him some respect for the amount of devotion to a role you can feel from him in any movie he’s ever been in.  Freddie Quell is no exception, though I do feel like Phoenix’s real-life imbalances lent themselves favorably to the character.  Quell is a great many things; he’s a drunk, a sexual deviant, a simple minded buffoon and much more, but more than anything he is unbalanced and unpredictable.  He varies between states of strong resolve and complete vulnerability as he is stripped emotionally bare by The Master, only to be eventually forced to question everything he has become.  

This is the last face you see before you get stabbed in the face

This is the last face you see before you get stabbed in the face

Amy Adams gives a very stern performance which does a lot to shirk her usual character type of the pretty, soft-spoken, naive little redhead we know from films like Doubt and Julie & Julia.  As the wife of The Master himself, I thought the dynamic between Adams and Hoffman was very interesting.  While The Master is the obvious leader and the inspiration for the entire movement, Peggy is the one who brings fire and brimstone to the proceedings.  She repeatedly criticizes Lancaster for his soft treatment of his “enemies” and his favorable views of Freddie, culminating in one sexually explicit scene that gives the feeling that she has almost as much influence over The Master as he has over his followers.

You wish your savior had suspenders like these

You wish your savior had suspenders like these

More than all of the others, however, Hoffman absolutely shines in this role and in my opinion deserves the Oscar he is nominated for this year.  The Master is an absolutely fascinating character, who combines the well-spoken cerebral voice of a scholar with the passion and temper of an Evangelist Preacher.  For the bulk of the film, he is the voice of calm and reason, chastising Freddie when he deals with dissenters physically and calling it “animal behavior”.  At the same time, his composed exterior is slowly drawn back through several scenes in which he finally loses his cool and reveals how human he truly is.  The comparisons with L. Ron Hubbard and the Church of Scientology are not stated here, but they are everything but.  Combined with the recent allegations of prolonged physical abuse members of the church have endured at the hands of their past and present leadership, it can be easily assumed the character of The Master was closely based around his Scientologist counterpart.

The Writing:

Remind me what wrestling Dragons has to do with anything again?

Remind me what wrestling Dragons has to do with anything again?

Perhaps I should have mentioned this before, but this is my first P. T. Anderson film.  I’ve heard things about his preferred writing style (i.e. the milkshake monologue in There Will Be Blood), and from what I gather a lot of those elements are present here.  There are more than a few off the wall speeches that leaves you with absolutely no idea what The Master is talking about, but I suppose that fits in with the idea that a cult leader can say just about anything and have it be treated as profound wisdom.  From my point of view, the strongest aspects of the writing showed in the exchanges between Freddie and The Master, specifically the “Don’t Blink” scene I mentioned in the title.  The slow breaking down and “domestication” of Freddie by The Master is absolutely riveting, even though it’s not exactly the most relatable of experiences.

The Verdict:  7.5/10 – Superior

+ Truly outstanding performances from Hoffman, Phoenix and Adams

+ Beautiful cinematography and sound editing

+ Provides and intriguing take on cult mentality

– No semblance of a plot, ends very abruptly and unsatisfyingly

Critical Consensus:

Rotten Tomatoes: 86%

IMDb: 7.5/10

Metacritic: 86/100

Other Reviews:

Average: 7.2/10*

Fogs’ Movie Reviews: A+

PG Cooper’s Movie Reviews: A+

Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 9/10

Marshall at the Movies: A-

Andy Watches Movies: 4/5

Cinematic Katzenjammer: 8.0/10

Cinematic Corner: 75/100

The Code is Zeek: 3.5/5

Strangers at a Cinema: [Highly Recommend]

Fast Film Reviews: 2/5

The Devil’s Advocates: 2/5

Paragraph Film Reviews: 3/10

*Average computed by converting all scores not bracketed into a 10 point score.  Letter grades are converted using the GPA system to give a score out of 4.

About r361n4

I'm a student at the University of Washington Majoring Business. I've always loved movies and my goal is to work on the financial side of the film industry. Until then though, I figure I'll spare my friends from my opinions and shout them from a digital mountaintop for anyone who's interested. After all, if a tree falls in a forest and nobody blogs about it, does it really happen?
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29 Responses to The Master Review: Don’t Blink

  1. Nick Powell says:

    Great review. The review on my own site was just a guest review, so I’m working on getting around to it at as well. Hoping the hype won’t kill it. Your review has made me more excited to finally watch it though!

    • r361n4 says:

      I’m interested to see what you think of this, definitely one you have to see before the oscars!

      • wordschat says:

        I’ll have to read your review on my PC not mobile as the background is too dark though looks cool. I saw the Master twice. Strange that I like it less the 2nd time. Hoffman’s character had more depth and I wanted to see more of his obession with Phoenix. It is Hoffman who needed to literally come out to free himself.

  2. CMrok93 says:

    No doubt about it that this isn’t Anderson’s best work, but it’s his most ambitious and strange, which makes it so hypnotic in the way it presents it’s story and characters. Still think some of this movie was a bit snubbed at the Oscars. Just a bit. Good review Andy.

    • r361n4 says:

      Ambitious and strange are definitely accurate here, and I’m sure he expected to alienate a lot of people. I’m glad you enjoyed it but at least the Academy is recognizing the performances, even if it got snubbed in other categories. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  3. Nice review Andy, haven’t got round to seeing this yet but looking forward to making my own mind up about it after so many divisive reviews. I gave this a retweet on Twitter for you too.

    • r361n4 says:

      I saw that, thank you sir 🙂 I am horrible about using my twitter account, I need to start using it more besides just having it automatically tweet posts

  4. ckckred says:

    Nice review. I chose this as the best film of 2012. I’m a big fan of PTA, and Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman were great here. I recommend seeing Magnolia, which is my favorite PTA movie, and There Will Be Blood.

    • r361n4 says:

      That’s two votes for Magnolia, and I can completely understand why so many people loved it but it just didn’t connect with me like like it has with those people

  5. pgcooper1939 says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed this. Also, I’m with ckckred, Magnolia is my favourite PTA film. Highly recommended.

  6. Mark Walker says:

    Superlative review Andy. This one has eluded me for ages. Can’t wait to see it. It’s been very difficult to get my hands on this one.

    • r361n4 says:

      Superlative use of the word superlative Mark 🙂 I’m very curious to see what you think, it’s definitely one of the 10 most view-worthy movies of 2012 even if it isn’t necessaryily in my top 10 favorite

  7. barronlouise says:

    When it was january 2012 i am searching for best picture predictions 2013 and The Master was always on the lists, so i was intrigued, but now meh, but great review

    • r361n4 says:

      Honestly, it’s worth a watch for the performances but it’s not something I’ll remember for very long. I’d take Perks of Being a Wallflower over it any day 🙂

  8. sati says:

    I agree about the story – it was unnerving how nothing came off the plot in the end. i really liked the acting too, Hoffman was just fascinating in this one.

  9. Mark Hobin says:

    I am such a big Paul Thomas Anderson fan. This was a disappointment, I liked the “don’t blink” scene but for most of the film I just couldn’t get into it. Great review.

  10. Wow. You should check out Boogie Nights ASAP man, that movie is GREAT. 😀

    Meanwhile, this one is great too… its just very obscure. As you mention, its not the most relatable thing in the world. Thats going to alienate a lot of viewers, but I think you still have to respect it. I know I’m looking forward to getting it on blu ray and figuring some things out!!

    • r361n4 says:

      I do think that I’d benefit from repeat viewings, but I can’t say that I’m super excited to see it again just because of how many other movies I need to see i.e. Boogie Nights (I’ll make that the first on on my PT Anderson list)

  11. I felt the film got a little lost in the middle, but I still enjoyed it. Phoenix and Hoffman were incredible – its a shame how underused Amy Adams was. Nice review by the way!

  12. Pingback: Rorschach’s Oscar Winners Predictions | Rorschach Reviews

  13. Nice review. I didn’t exactly hate this one but I definitely didn’t love it. No plot, no reason to care for the characters. Great acting, music and cinematography, though.

  14. A great review. I can agree that it is one of the most debated films of 2012. I did not like it but I felt the performances were compelling.

  15. Yi says:

    “The master” has interesting characters, performed wonderfully by the talented Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman. But the film leads to nowhere, I agree with you. What does Paul Thomas Anderson want to say after all?
    For me it has been a huge disappointment.
    I recommend “There will be blood”, a must-watch even though it’s dry and, to many people, even boring. “There will be blood” has some elements that you can find in “The master”, but it’s a much, much, much better film and Daniel Day-Lewis is incredible in it.

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