Saturday, September 29, 2012

Regarding "The Master." Masterful but a Miss

I saw Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master at the earliest possible occassion--the Friday of its early release. There was the promise of pseudo-arcane secrets of pseudo-religion--that being the dangerous con, Scientology; a strong cast (though almost all white people). There was the fact of Paul Thomas Anderson, a great director who grew up in the San Fernando Valley (yay), aspects of which he nailed in Boogie Nights.

Here's the deal. The acting is great, as is Anderson's visual artistry, but the story lacks thrust and luster. Yes, Philip Seymour Hoffman's gusty bellow after slugging back bootleg poison brewed by Joaquin Phoenix' character thrills. And Phoenix is a slinking skanky marvel of a drifter. But the relationship between the two men doesn't carry the movie, and it is the movie's core.

I was reminded of the father-son relationship, touching and angry, in There Will Be Blood.  Not so riveting in The Master, even though father-son bonds, men succumbing to their more feeling portions, is one of Anderson's themes. Yes, there was hints of homo-eroticism, but so what, and isn't that in the eye of the beholder. (i.e., So what.)

Two actors who, in effect, had cameos despite strong billing, were riveting. Their implicit and untold backstories begged to be developed. One was Hoffman's movie wife, Amy Adams. (Hoffman's character, as you probably know is, is reputed to be based on Ron Hubbard of Scientology.) Anyway, Adams delivers a freaky-eerie performance as a woman not-too-far-behind-the-great-man. She authors at least part of his magnum opus and we spy on her as she dictates.  Is she taking dication from the spirits? Whew. Maybe that part's on Youtube.

The son-in-law was played by Rami Malek, blinking his children-of-the-corn eyes, innocent and sinister. I wanted lots more. Jesse Plemmons from Friday Night Lights and more recently from Breaking Bad was beautifully cynical about, and loyal to, his father (the Hoffman character).

But I got bored. Yes, The Master was masterful, gorgeous, splendid, cinematically intriguing. But not fully developed as a story, and not a story which, as presented, interested me. I forgive Anderson who perhaps does not ache for my forgiveness and hope he returns to cinematic storytelling greatness. Punch-Drunk Love definitely counts.

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