It is a unique treat to view a new film by Paul Thomas Anderson. One looks forward to a new movie from him in the same way one anticipates new offerings from Wes Anderson, Lars von Trier, and Sofia Coppola. You know you will be delivered a unique vision that is characteristic to the specific talents of these directors (see prior post).
The Master, PT Anderson’s latest (out now), does not disappoint in that regard. It is the story of a disturbed WWII veteran sailor (Joaquin Phoenix) who has returned to civilian life. He is unstable and disturbed, but powerful and strong. Shuffling from one minor disaster to another, he at one point randomly hops on board a boat for a little pleasure cruise. While on board, he meets another strong-willed character, “Master” as he is sometimes called (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman), who is the head of a small cult of followers that may be likened to Scientology, though without all the alien nonsense.
The exceptional performances by Phoenix and Hoffman work well with the developing drama — to a point. The problem with this film is that it felt like half a film. There is superb character and plot development for about half the movie. But by the time the picture is nearing the end, we realize that Anderson has not really thought of what to do with these people and their circumstances. By that I mean he has not thought of anything particularly dramatic or interesting. This film lacks any sort of climax with a punch.
As The Master began to unfold, I felt like I had better brace myself because I would be in for one hell of a ride. Unfortunately the ride stopped short. Without hesitation I’ll watch in theater the next PT Anderson offering, and hope for something on the caliber of his past, generally excellent work, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood. But this one: a mere 4/10. [UPGRADED; SEE UPDATE IN COMMENT BELOW]