Wednesday, September 26, 2012
In Theaters: THE MASTER (2012)
(US - 2012)
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Laura Dern, Ambyr Childers, Jesse Plemons, Rami Malek, Kevin J. O'Connor, Madisen Beaty, Christopher Evan Welch. (R, 138 mins)
Don't look for any straightforward storytelling in THE MASTER, easily the most impenetrable and difficult work yet from Paul Thomas Anderson. Drifting away from the kinetic, propulsive, last-third-of-Scorsese's GOODFELLAS-style structure of BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997) and MAGNOLIA (1999) and feeling colder and even more stand-offish than his most recent film, THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007), THE MASTER is not something easily digested in one viewing or even five. I'm not even sure if I like it, and that's never been a reaction I've had after seeing a Paul Thomas Anderson film (BOOGIE NIGHTS is probably my favorite film of the 1990s). There's a lot to admire in THE MASTER, but it's a film that never lets you in, and not in the way of needing everything explained to you. It keeps you at a distance and really doesn't let you know entirely what's going on or what the stakes are or why some people behave the way they do.
I'm still not sure what to make of THE MASTER. On one hand, it's too original, bold, and inventive to dismiss, but on the other, it's the first time I've felt Anderson was being pompous and pretentious, and a "Slow Boat to China" serenade isn't quite "I drink your milkshake!" In equal measures brilliant and overwrought, ambitious and aloof, hypnotic and baffling, THE MASTER is like no other film you've ever seen (except maybe John Huston's long-buried 1946 documentary LET THERE BE LIGHT, from which Anderson quoted several lines of dialogue), which is what we've come to expect from Paul Thomas Anderson. And like it or not, he's made the film he wanted to make. I'm just not quite sure what he wanted.