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Movie Madness: The Master Still Needs to Learn

Going into the movies, I try to have as little expectations as possible. For some movies, however, it is extremely difficult not to be a little pumped. So comes The Master, one of the most critically acclaimed films in recent years. I am disappointed to tell you that it does not fully live up to those high expectations.

Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a disturbed man, his mind consumed with thoughts of sex, violence, and alcohol. After boozing along for five years after WWII, he finally finds himself in the great presence of Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), the enthusiastic leader of the movement known as “The Cause.”

Dodd takes Freddie under his wing, training him in the ways of his alluded Scientology. Dodd is a man of immense passion. He seems to emit light wherever he goes. His voice is bright, jolly and clear. Freddie, on the other hand, mumbles, barely audible at times. Where Dodd represents light, Quell brings darkness wherever he goes.

The two take a marvelous journey together, trying to discover the meaning of their lives. Dodd makes Freddie his protégé, and the two grow close.

The film is a hard one to describe, with a plot that is matched by no other. Words don’t comprehend what I saw in that theater. It’s an experience all its own; whether you’ll love it or hate it, I’m not sure.

Phoenix gives an outstanding performance. He is the darkest character I have seen in film history. All he wants to do is drift through life on booze and women. He is regretful for the life he has lived, but is too lazy and stupid to do anything about it. His portrayal is heartbreaking. Phoenix nails it, giving Quell a ferocious attitude, crude mumble, and awkward physical stance. Props go out to the makeup department, who did a damn fine job on aging Phoenix.

Seymour Hoffman churns out another great performance. It’s one that likely will put him up for Best Actor. He is so clear, pitch perfect in nearly every way. He is a messiah to Quell, a seemingly perfect being in the eyes of many. It is truly one of his best performances.

There are also many great supporting roles. Amy Adams, Dodd’s iron willed wife. Ambyr Childers is a great tease, and Madisen Beaty is nearly perfect as Quell’s love.

Mihai Malaimare’s cinematography is also outstanding, and is accompanied by a great score from Jonny Greenwood. This is truly an astounding visual movie.

However, the audience is left with far too many questions. At many times, I was left wondering what this means, how it fits into the story, or why it happened. It sometimes feels that parts of the story have been patched together. The dialogue could be very confusing to some, and surely will leave a few viewers turned off. Not nearly enough is specified. This was a major blow to a film, that otherwise could have been a masterpiece.

Although The Master has a few issues, it still manages to be a solid film. There truly is outstanding acting, directing, cinematography, and a wonderful score. But the confusing writing, patchwork plot, and the fact that it runs about 20 minutes too long, hold it back from becoming great. Three Stars.