The gods of home entertainment are finally bringing one of the 2012 most visually stunning films to DVD & Blu-Ray. "The Master" is a film unlike any other that took us deep into the minds of two men, one a solider dealing with his struggles to reintegrate after the war and is lost is proper society as well as an intellectual who sees somewhat of a kindred spirit in this lost man who stumbled on to his boat one evening and together they move forward on the intellectual's movement known as 'The Cause'.
“The Master” takes us to the years after WWII where an American intellectual (Hoffman) has created a new religion with a large following of disciples. When he meets a troubled drifter (Phoenix), he invites the man to help him spread the new faith. As their congregation increases, the drifter begins to question the religion he once accepted and the mentor who gave his life direction.
Long rumored to be a cinematic shot at Scientology, it really isn’t but when it all comes down to it “The Master” probably needs to be judged on multiple scales as it will be re-watched and examined for years to come. A film that is ultimately a mediation on topics ranging from the various hypocrisies of religion, the father-son complex and even some latent and confusing sexual urges and tendencies as it all rolls it up into a dissection of what makes up the American ideal and rather then come to any sort of real conclusion it just asks more questions. It will admittedly be frustrating for some but its ambiguity is really where this films magic lies. Through the use of the 70mm, some superb production design, a stunning musical score and brilliant cinematography, Anderson crafted a warm and lush world that he sucks us into and forces us to experience. With a narrative that is admittedly weak, Anderson has made an experiential art experience that forces the audience to fill in the blanks with their own ideals making it something that you have to go into with an open mind considering all the ideas that he throws up on the screen, he asks the audience to get to a conclusion on their own. Without the right ensemble this could have easily been a real mess, but Paul Thomas Anderson knows better than that and our three leads in this film delivered what can only be called a genuine master class in the art of acting.
Both Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix brought a brilliant and intense yin and yang to their performance playing almost the polar opposites of their characters. As Lancaster Dodd, the charismatic and mysterious ‘master’ Hoffman brought a real gravitas to the role as a man who attracts and brings all these people into his world with his message playing it rather calmly only exploding with emotions when it was absolutely necessary. Joaquin Phoenix as aimless drifter Freddie Quell goes to exact opposite of the spectrum as the hedonistic, barely in control of his emotions ex solider who is struggling with re-entering society and living a normal life, his interactions with Hoffman’s Dodd range anywhere from a father/son type of relationship to a latent homosexual desire shared by both men. As Phoenix’s Freddy gets drawn into Dodd’s world we see how tenuous both men’s existences actually are and the struggles that both men share to keep their respective lives together share a commonality that neither man would be very comfortable in admitting. Both men played off of each other with absolute aplomb and watching them go at it was a pure cinematic delight. However the true standout, jaw dropping performance in this film really did belong to Amy Adams as Dodd’s wife, Peggy. The saying that for every strong man, there stands a strong woman right behind him and it holds very true here, as Adams plays her classic beautiful looks for maximum value and some of the things we see her do on screen and the dialogue she delivers in such a calculating and cold fashion hits home so effectively that she has some of the best and most memorable moments in the entire film.
Originally shot in 70mm film, the Blu-Ray maintains a warm visual feel and looks great. The special features on the Blu-Ray include a behind the scenes look, deleted and extended scenes, various teasers and the documentary that inspired some of the characters in "The Master" by director John Huston; "Let There Be Light". Almost worth it for this documentary alone, Huston's fly on the wall doc was the third in a trilogy that offers a fairly unedited look at the mental condition that some of these soldiers are left in after a war. A very compelling look at the human psyche and the many ways it can truly fracture.
With an ambiguous tone and open ended subject matter, “The Master” won’t be for everyone and because of that alone it can’t be consider as Paul Thomas Anderson’s best work, but it is without question the most beautiful and the most interesting that will undoubtedly reward multiple viewings in any and every way possible.
4 out of 5 stars.
"The Master" is now available to rent on DVD & Blu-Ray at video stores everywhere and is also available on demand via all major providers. You can also find it for purchase at all major retailers like HMV, iTunes or amazon.ca.