The Master (2012)
12.45am, Saturday, Channel 4
“You’ve wandered from the proper path, haven’t you?”
Five years after There Will Be Blood,
Paul Thomas Anderson delivered another epic American tale featuring a surrogate father-son relationship at its heart. The Master is a sweeping, compelling and puzzling yarn that delights and infuriates in equal measure. Shot entirely on 65mm, the movie follows the fortunes of US navy veteran Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix). Clearly su ering some sort of post-traumatic stress following his WWII experiences, Quell drifts aimlessly from one dead-end job to another in a haze of alcohol and barely suppressed rage. When he stows away on a yacht controlled by Philip Seymour Ho man’s charismatic Lancaster Dodd, the latter believes he has found a suitable candidate for his cult. “You will be my guinea pig and protégé,’’ Dodd proclaims, and Quell is only too happy to throw in his lot with a character who describes himself, with no little pomposity, as ‘a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist and a philosopher.’
Though clearly modelled in some part on L Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, Ho man’s portrayal, particularly when he randomly bursts into song, seems to be equally informed by Charles Foster Kane.
For his part, Phoenix was guided in his performance by the Bowery drunks of the period, but with his high-waisted pants and mannered delivery, he also has a look of 1950s-era Frederic March about him. And if Ho man is Kane, Phoenix is the one with the Rosebud; as the memory of his pre-war gal informs his every move. We expect this sort of quality from Ho man, but it was good to see Phoenix back in the zone after some recent detours. A word, too, for Amy Adams, making the most of her role as Dodds’ wife; a little lady who quickly turns into Lady Macbeth.
The Master is a lm that’s easier to admire than to like, and it’s not without aws (especially in the second act), but it con rms Paul Thomas Anderson’s standing as a true auteur: a master, in fact.