There Will Be Blood was a masterpiece of human exploration into the greed and dangerous corruption of a wealthy oil tycoon, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest release The Master follows in a similar vein of character study. This time, instead of Daniel and Eli, we have Freddy, a traumatized war veteran and borderline insane alcoholic and Lancaster Dodd, a noted philosopher who attempts to cure him with his practices. At first it appears as though Freddy has slim chances of improving, yet he perseveres and we as the audience believe he may actually be cured, as he preaches The Cause around the East Coast.
Make no mistake; The Master is flawlessly made. The establishing shot of the lavish bright blue and white surf of the sea to Jonny Greenwood’s beautiful and reflective score sets the stage for a journey into the lives of two very different yet fascinating men. The violent, sex obsessed drunkard Freddy is the polar opposite of the intelligent, rather obnoxious Dodd but together they become a match made in heaven. The acting is also terrific, Phoenix brims with explosive savagery and unpredictable rage, yet Dodd’s roaring authority challenges anyone who dares to criticize him. Make no mistake, just like both Daniel and Eli in There Will Be Blood, these men are dangerous and to explore their psychology provides us with disturbing yet utterly fascinating results.
Characters aside, the main problem here is the plot of the film itself. We never feel entirely convinced by the final frame that Freddy has been cured and The Master descends into pointless, if visually enthralling experiments to improve his behavior. Unlike the climactic ending of There Will Be Blood, there is no murder on the bowling alley, and neither character ever really explodes to their full potential. This poses the question; what is the point of the film and did it ever need to be made?
A very well made and acted film which unfortunately falls due a plot not exciting or indeed explorative enough.
Review by LiveWire Young Film Critic, Paddy Johnson (November ’12)