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Movie Review: The Master

October 19, 2012

The Master – An eOne Films’ Release

Release Date: September 21st, 2012 (limited)

September 28th, 2012 (wide)

Rated 14A for coarse language, graphic nudity and sexual content

Running time: 137 minutes

Paul Thomas Anderson (dir.)

Paul Thomas Anderson (writer)

Jonny Greenwood (music)

Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd

Amy Adams as Peggy Dodd

Jesse Plemons as Val Dodd

Ambyr Childers as Elizabeth Dodd

Christopher Evan Welch as John More

Laura Dern as Helen Sullivan

Barbara Brownell as Margaret O’Brien

©eOne Films.  All Rights Reserved.

Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) and Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in The Master.

Our reviews below:


The Master Review By John C.

**** (out of 4)

Director Paul Thomas Anderson follows up his critically acclaimed 2008 film There Will Be Blood with The Master, an equally fascinating and thought provoking achievement.  This is a mesmerizing study of mental illness that is carried by brilliant performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams.  These three actors give some of the best performances of the year.

After having served in the Navy during World War II, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is drifting through a life of mental illness which is made worse by his crippling addiction to chemical substances that he creates using paint thinner.  But then one night he literally stumbles upon a boat where he meets the charismatic Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his wife Peggy (Amy Adams).  He is the leader of The Cause, a cult founded on the belief that emotions brought upon by things that our souls experienced in past existences are dictating our lives, and that these feelings must be cleared through extensive “processing.”  Freddie becomes deeply involved with the shady Lancaster Dodd, to the point of questioning his own beliefs.

As The Master delves into a deeply psychological study of the characters, I found it impossible to look away from the film.  Joaquin Phoenix brilliantly embodies dangerous addiction and unhinged mental illness, delivering a performance that is at turns both mesmerizing and terrifying.  Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a character who is quietly persuasive in the way that he presents his sometimes entirely delusional ideas, with a few shocking moments of agitation causing us to question exactly how much of his thinking he actually believes.  A tense scene between them when they are separated by the bars of adjacent prison cells is just stunning.  Amy Adams delivers another excellent performance as the faithful wife of the title Master, including an unforgettable scene in front of a mirror.

Complete with a haunting musical score by Jonny Greenwood and some equally effecting moments of silence, this is a true cinematic experience that is guaranteed to provoke a lot of thought long after the credits roll.  With hypnotizing cinematography and breathtaking performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams, The Master is a mesmerizing study of mental illness and the addictive nature of life in a cult.


The Master Review by Erin V.  

**** (out of 4)

In The Master, after WWII ends, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is left with PTSD, a drinking problem, and no where to go.  After being fired from job after job for his violent outbursts and homemade alcoholic concoctions, he finds himself sneaking onto a boat to get away from it all.  That boat is currently being used by The Master (Phillip Seymour-Hoffman) of ‘The Cause,’ where he is leading a group of followers to New York and trying to work on his second book.

When The Master discovers Freddie onboard, rather than be mad, he decides that it is his job to ‘help’ him.  So he takes Freddie on a journey of self-exploration and ‘cleansing’ exercises called ‘processing’ among other things.  The cult-like nature of The Cause seems to not be noticed by Freddie, or in his own insane state, he does not care.  The film is very quiet, and carried entirely by brilliant and haunting performances.  It is also mostly dialogue driven, intriguing us with the mental state and motives of its characters – those who all seem to solidly believe what they say, despite as one character points out, The Master seems to just be making it all up as he goes along.

Thus, the film is fascinating.  Phoenix and Hoffman are utterly riveting and deserve nominations for their work here.  Amy Adams, who plays The Master’s wife also gives one of her best performances here.  In terms of other technicals, the cinematography and editing here are worth a note, and the script of course.  Plus, the score by Jonny Greenwood has a unique jazzy, and at times off-kilter, sound and works brilliantly in creating the perfect feeling for the audience along with everything else.  The use of songs is also very well placed – in particular when the characters use them to express undertones and subtext – something this film is leaden with.

For adult audiences (due to the 14A content), The Master is a film well worth seeing – it is sure to be noticed around awards time, and will hold up even on repeat viewings.  This is a film of performances, that like a film like Doubt, is worth seeing almost for that alone.


The Master Review by Nicole

**** (out of 4)

The Master takes a long and hard look at the power and vulnerability of mental illness.  Taking place in the early 1950s, the film follows Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a sex obsessed and shell shocked WWII veteran who spends his days drunk and high on his own crazy cocktails of booze, paint thinner and other toxic chemicals.  One night, Freddie stumbles upon a yacht, which he drunkenly sneaks onto unawares.  The yacht’s owner, Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) welcomes the stowaway, asking to try whatever bizarre concoction of chemical drink that has gotten Freddie so drunk.

Lancaster claims to hold all the secrets of the universe in a Scientology type cult that he has created called “The Cause.”  He brings people into his own delusional ideas through hypnosis, recorded interrogations and repeated, mundane behaviours.  Calling himself the Master, Lancaster has not only managed to brainwash the already disturbed Freddie, but also his own wife (Amy Adams), his adult kids and dozens of outside followers.

The Master is a brilliant psychological thriller.  Philip Seymour Hoffman portrays Lancaster Dodd as both chillingly sociopathic and completely delusional.  Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell as a vulnerable yet deeply disturbed man, and Amy Adams rivals the both of them in one bizarrely hypnotizing sequence in which her eyes change colour.  The underscore by Jonny Greenwood is equally chilling, often playing in two different keys at once, creating an unsettling dissonance that matches the disturbed mental state of the film’s characters.  This is contrasted by the music of Helen Forrest, Ella Fitzgerald and Jo Stafford, which adds a fitting irony to the film.

The film is also a staunch reminder that one must avoid the lure of false prophets, because without real faith, anything will fill the void.  The Master is an intelligent film that will spark many discussions.


The Master Review by Maureen

**** (out of 4)

The Master is a powerful look at the dynamics between two men, two minds and a cult-like set of beliefs knows as “The Cause.”  Joaquin Phoenix is brilliant as the clearly unstable and perpetually drunk WWII sailor, Freddie Quell.  After the war ends, he works as a photographer, then as a migrant farmhand, drifting as a result of the toxic homemade brews that keep him constantly self-medicated.  When Freddie ends up as a stowaway on a yacht, his life takes a dark psychological journey.

It’s on the yacht that Freddie meets the smooth and charismatic Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), also known as Master.  Master Dodd takes a liking to Freddie and decides to invite him into the fold with his pregnant wife Peggy (Amy Adams), his adult children and numerous friends.  First, Freddie must submit to going through “processing,” a series of psychological interrogations, mind games and exercises that are meant to break down defences and strip away one’s current self and reveal past life journeys.

The Master is at is most brilliant when Freddie and Master Dodd are going head to head as part of the process.  Freddie’s obvious descent into mental illness and Dodd’s delusion and paranoia regarding The Cause are fascinating to watch.  The scene where the two men end up in adjourning jail cells and are screaming at each other is just brilliant.  Both Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman give awards-worthy performances in The Master.  Phoenix is particular good with his hunched shoulders, tensed hands and odd gait defining a man who is as troubled on the outside as on the inside.

Along with the excellent lead performances, Amy Adams holds her own as Dodd’s dedicated to The Cause wife.  The other strong supporting role in The Master is the music.  Jonny Greenwood’s haunting score is powerful.  There are times when the rhythmic beat and violins just define a scene.  The use of popular 1940s songs and jazz match the tone and mood of the film perfectly.  While there have been a lot of comparisons to Scientology, I see The Master as more of a psychological thriller than a commentary on a cult-like belief system.  The film is as much about mental illness as it is mind control.

The Master is a strong movie all around, especially for the lead performances.  This is a fascinating film.


The Master Review by Tony

**** (out of 4)

The Master follows Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a WWII navy veteran coping with serious psychological issues. Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), founder/leader of The Cause which promises enlightenment through a series of “Processing” exercises, takes Freddie into his cult. However, Quell’s violent outbursts and inability to sober up lead Dodd’s wife Peggy (Amy Adams) and other members to question his worthiness.

The latest film by Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master is an intensely disturbing character study brilliantly carried by the leading cast through countless memorable scenes over its 137 minutes. It is sure to find its place among the great films that stimulate considerable reflection and discussion, if not controversy, among intelligent audiences.


Consensus: With haunting music and hypnotizing cinematography, director Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master is a fascinating psychological film that is carried by brilliant work from Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams.  **** (Out of 4)

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