I honestly don’t know where to start when writing about The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson’s upcoming film. I was one of the lucky few to catch a screening of the film in 70mm last week. Now, that I have finally sat down with the intention to write a review of The Master, I find that I can’t.
I need to see again.
Unfortunately for me, that means I have to wait until mid-September. And what makes it even less fortunate, it won’t be in 70mm. I usually don’t like to stipulate that a movie should be seen twice. However, The Master is definitely one of those films that require a second viewing. If you think you can get it all in one viewing, good for you, but everyone I know who has seen it has expressed a need to view it again. Alas, that means this isn’t much of a review of The Master. More like my personal reaction to the film and its presentation in 70mm.
It’s easier to start off with 70mm. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, 70mm film has a wider and higher resolution than 35mm film, which is the standard format used for almost all movies. Not many theaters can play 70mm films. I went to the only theater in Chicago who can project 70mm to see The Master. It was my first time watching 70mm film, and I was stunned. 70mm is so clear and beautiful. The opening shot of the crisp, blue sea completely awed the audience. I was even sitting in the front row, and I couldn’t even spot a blemish on the vibrant screen. If you have a chance to see this movie (or any movie) in 70mm, take it! Even if you have to spend more for a ticket and/or drive all the way across town. It’s worth it.
As for The Master itself, it’s not what I expected. I suppose I was looking for something less hectic. It’s a bit of task to follow the movie. The performances are incredible, the dialogue is arresting and intense, and the way the story moves can be disorienting. (On top of that, I was trying not to be too dazzled by 70mm.) Yet, I can’t deny that director Paul Thomas Anderson is an excellent filmmaker, and you can clearly see how good he is with this film.
Anderson also penned the script. The film begins with Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a very unnerving and aggressive man, trying to navigate life post-World War II. After several altercations and losing a bunch of jobs, Freddie finds himself on ship with a Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and Dodd’s group of spiritual followers, including his wife (Amy Adams). Dodd decides to take Freddie in and begins to use his spiritual practices to help cure him. (You can say Dodd’s practices are comparable to Scientology.) One of the most captivating moments of the film was when Dodd asked Freddie a series of test questions. The interaction between the characters was magnetic, and just seeing Hoffman and Phoenix verbally sparring it out showed how truly talented these two actors are. Despite how fascinating their scenes were, Amy Adams gave the best performance in the film. Adams was a scene-stealer; she portrayed Dodd’s wife with a quiet, yet menacing authority. She was scary, more so than the crazy and unpredictable Freddie. I hope Hoffman, Phoenix and Adams receive recognition for their work in the film. But Adams better (and finally) go home with that Oscar.
I wish I could elaborate more on the film. But as stated earlier, a second viewing is imperative. At this point, I can’t say The Master is my favorite PTA film (There Will Be Blood still tops that list), but it feels like Anderson’s most ambitious film, which makes me want to understand it more. There are many elements of the film that I’m still questioning or wrapping my head around. It goes without saying that The Master is a movie that has left me with the most to think about so far this year.
The Master hits theaters September 21st.