What movie was that...?

09 October 2012

The Master

Saying a Paul Thomas Anderson movie is going to be a classic is like spying a space shuttle in the sky and saying, “That’s probably a NASA shuttle, you think?” Of course it is! Any point, any filmic point on Anderson’s resume would count as the high water mark for almost any other living filmmaker (and many dead ones, too), and yet Anderson continues to astound, continues to move, continues to do in new ways what I keep thinking will be an impossible task: to not only live up to his titanic reputation as one of the finest filmmakers of all time (my opinion), but to cull from the deep the very rumblings of what make us feel and to mold it into a thing that turns  something on inside of you, sets a thing in motion inside of you that forever changes the world as you see it. Paul Thomas Anderson is our T.S. Eliot, our William Blake, our Louise Erdrich, reaching into the ether and bringing back good works so that rest of us might understand this existence just a little bit better. The Master, aside from being an instant classic, features the Academy caliber comeback of one Joaquin Phoenix, who plays the ever-loving shit out of his role as Freddie Quell. Now, before I continue, let’s get one thing clear: Mr J P has gone completely off his rocker since his doc experiment I’m Still Here, and there is no getting back on. Phoenix is going to be one of those actors who disappear for years at a time, glimpsed yeti-like by some witless activist in a mountain hovel somewhere as he scrawls his manifesto on a cave wall. Whatever the case, Phoenix has turned a corner and gone from great to almost too great, and in the land of phenomenal talent (Amy Adams is blazingly brilliant, and P S Hoffman is egomania at its most enthralling), Phoenix is king. Anderson’s love story between a junkie and a cult leader (Hoffman) amid the backdrop of post WWII American unease is a blinding tour de force that will leave you breathless, reeling, affected. And let’s get another thing clear, folks: this is a love story, make no bones about it. Quell and Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd character share a deep connection that goes beyond the kind of bond forged by kindred spirits, beyond the kind of near-sexual, Hemingway-esque masculine affection that befalls such damaged souls. Quell and Dodd love one another totally, recklessly, and even now I feel as though I have said too much. Johnny Greenwood has outdone himself this time, crafting a web of sound, symphony and song that entangles you helplessly. There is so much that I want to say in this review, but the result would fly in the face of OMFBC formatting (and bore you to tears, good reader), if you do one thing this autumn, it should be to see Anderson’s good work on the big screen and to be affected by it. For there are few films like this out there, and criminally rare is the occasion in which I find myself truly moved by a film. I’m partial, to be sure, since Anderson’s intense style is what I crave from film, but The Master is just the type of epic to cement (if it wasn’t already cemented) Paul Thomas Anderson’s name on a very short list of the greatest filmmakers ever.

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