The Master

Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman in “The Master”

Someone is going to have to explain to me why “The Master” has been hailed as such an amazing movie by so many of my fellow critics.  I am not kidding.  I invite anyone who thinks that “The Master” is a great movie to send me an email explaining why.  Could it be that I am just not “with it,” or is it a case of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” with most critics jumping on the “greatness/I get this movie” bandwagon? Maybe I am just not one of the intelligentsia after all, but I am here to tell you that the emperor is quite naked.

“The Master” was directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, a director whose earlier films I liked.  I enjoyed “Hard Eight” (1996) and “Boogie Nights” (1997).  However, I did not “get” “Magnolia” (1999) and did not care for “There Will Be Blood” (2007).

From the publicity surrounding “The Master” I know that it is a fictional account of L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology.  The Hubbard character is named Lancaster Dodd and played very well by Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Joaquin Phoenix co-stars as Freddie Quell an alcoholic hanger on, and all around unstable personality, who becomes Dodd’s friend, acolyte and enforcer.  The two of them give fine, larger than life performances with the cast nicely rounded out by Laura Dern, Amy Adams and others.

My main criticism of “The Master” is that I just did not know what the story was about.  We see that Hoffman’s Dodd is a charismatic man with ideas about people curing that which ails them by revisiting their past lives, a sort of hypnoisis.  Dodd does not seem to have much of a following outside of a group of friends/followers.  The story is mostly about the relationship between Hoffman’s and Phoenix’s characters.  Many of their scenes together are meandering and dull.  We are given little sense of the effect that Dodd’s organization, the Cause, is having on the outside world which, since the subject is Scientology, should be a big part of the story.

The best part of “The Master,” besides the performances, is the fact that it was shot on, and is being presented in, 70 millimeter film (in select theatres).  It is extremely rare for a movie today to be shot in 70mm and just as unusual for it to be projected in 70mm.  Simply put, 70mm is bigger film.  The result is a sharper image than 35mm film, the format on which movies have traditionally been shot.  Currently, with most theatres using digital projection, and more and more movies being shot digitally, even 35mm is not as prevalent as it once was.  Anderson’s use of 70mm for “The Master” is a reminder of how great this old fashioned, analogue format can be, even to the point of rivaling, if not surpassing, more hi-tech digital formats.

“The Master” is playing locally at City Cinemas Village East Cinemas, 181 2nd Ave. (in 70mm), Angelika Film Center, 18 East Houston Street and Kips Bay 15, 570 2nd Ave.

“The Master,” director Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012,

Weinstein Company, 136 minutes, Rated R


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on October 2, 2012, in New and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Huh. I guess they truly make nowadays trailers, which are way far superior in their quality than the mediocre films they advertise (I learnt that from ‘A Dangerous Method’ trailer). This is a FIFTH review I am reading today which is somewhat critical of the film, and I was about to hail this film – the best I would ever see. I guess not lol

  2. Since the admin of this website is working, no question very soon it will be famous, due to its quality contents.

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