The Master (2012)

(On Cable TV, August 2013) There are times where I feel guilty of apparently not being able to appreciate the acclaimed genius of writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson, and then there are times where I’m comfortable not being enthusiastic about his films.  The Master clearly falls into the second category, as it meanders all over the place and almost forgets to actually tell a story.  Much has been made of the film’s connections to Scientology, but don’t read too much into it: While Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a decent L. Ron Hubbard stand-in, and while much of his cult’s teachings find resonance in Dianetics, Anderson doesn’t try to tell anything close to a true story.  The Master instead focuses on a man left adrift after his military service in World War II, and finding some purpose in associating with the burgeoning cult.  Joaquin Phoenix is remarkable in the lead role, radiating danger, pain and coiled aggression in nearly every frame.  Amy Adams is almost as surprising in a shrewish role far away from her usual good-girl screen personae.  And much of The Master’s cinematography is truly remarkable, evoking a deep sense of craft in the way the film is presented.  The problem is that none of those interesting things amount to an interesting story.  The pacing is deathly slow, the loose ends are numerous and the conclusion can’t be bothered to actually conclude.  There’s little here to satisfy fans of sustained narratives, nor clear meaning.  I’ll still give a chance to Anderson’s next film.

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