After almost killing his career with his fake mockumentary, “I’m Still Here,” and nearly self-destructing, Joaquin Phoenix is back. And just like the Phoenix he is, he rises out of the ashes to deliver a powerful performance in “The Master.” The acting in “The Master” by both Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman are no doubt Oscar-worthy. The film is beautifully portrayed, but the plot and emotions are also complex on multiple levels.
Phoenix plays a character named Freddie Quell, a soldier who comes back to the United States after World War II and has a hard time readjusting to society. He goes through a couple of jobs, before stumbling, albeit drunkenly, onto a yacht owned by Lancaster Dodd (played by Hoffman). Instead of kicking him off his boat, Dodd invites Quell to stay for his daughter’s wedding.
As Quell finds out, Dodd is a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist and a theoretical philosopher. He also mentions, though, that he is, “above all a man. A hopelessly inquisitive man,” — one of my favorite lines of the movie. Dodd is also the leader of a group called The Cause, which some people have said is loosely based scientology. The movie follows Quell and Dodd and focuses on how their relationship progresses, in addition to having Quell becoming part of The Cause and Dodd using him as one of the experiments for the group.
Again, the acting in this film is incredible — personally, I would like to see the two stars win Best Actor and Supporting Actor at the Oscars. Phoenix and Hoffman are incredible actors and their talent is art in this movie. Quell is an alcoholic and you can definitely get the idea he is because of the memorable scenes where he is concocting his own liquor with dangerous additives like paint thinner. Phoenix showcases how damaged Quell is after war and how hard it is for him to adjust to society. He gets into several fights with people and is naturally crazy at times. Hoffman also showcases how intelligent and interesting the charismatic leader of The Cause is. Several times I found myself captivated by how Dodd communicates and does his exercises with people.
Even though Phoenix and Hoffman serve up many of the memorable scenes in the movie (and there are plenty), the movie is also carried by the talents of Amy Adams, Jesse Plemons and Laura Dern, who play Dodd’s wife, Peggy, Dodd’s son Val and a devoted member of The Cause, Helen Sullivan, respectively. They all come together to form an exquisitely acted and emotional film.
In addition to the acting, the movie is filmed in the traditional Paul Thomas Anderson style. It has an incredible soundtrack, camera stabilizing mounts, and long-take shots where the camera continues to roll long after it would usually be cut. I absolutely love this style of film. It may seem awkward to some people, but it just works for this style of movie. Anderson also includes his trademark theme of flawed characters — Freddie Quell exemplifies flawed. Overall, the style of this movie gives it a film festival quality to it.
I must say that this is a beautifully filmed and acted movie. It is probably at the top of my list of favorite movies for 2012. The movie itself might be confusing to some — it is by no means a movie the casual movie goer will understand because of its complex ideas and emotions, so you really have to know you want to see this movie. Other than that, it’s a beautiful film that shows the caliber of acting by some great actors, as well as giving Phoenix an opportunity to revitalize his career.