The Master

master and commander


Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson – Written by Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams

Let me start by telling you that upon leaving the theatre after seeing this film, I was lost for words. So, how to find the words now.

I shall start with cinematography. This film was shot on 65mm, using a Panasonic System 65, the footage from which I saw projected at a 70mm screening on very limited release. The reason for telling you this detail? The film I saw that day, sadly, I will never see again, instead, we are left with a still beautiful, yet distilled version. However, Mihai Malaimare, Jr. is in contention for many cinematography awards, and rightly so. What he has accomplished is outstanding, his use of framing, palette, long shots, it all culminates to what could easily be called the best shot film so far this decade.

A lot have described this one as a hard or difficult watch, wrong. Others have also said it lacks direction, wrong. The Master engages its audience throughout. Where I believe other critics’ dislike for the film has come from, is Anderson’s ability to not pass judgement on his own characters, instead, he gives his audience the story of a man. As Hoffman himself says in the film – “But above all, I am man”. For me, this sums up his style completely.

This movie breaks down the anatomy of an age old relationship, the leader and his soldier, the master and his slave, and allows you, as all good films do, to infer your own interpretations. This relationship between the two male leads, or more so their characters, is supported by two performances of such pedigree, you can expect to not see anything of the like for a while to come. You, as an audience, believe every instant that they are Freddie Quell and Lancaster Dodd as opposed to Phoenix and Hoffman. This chemistry is epitomised through one scene in particular; the coming together of the two for Quell’s first processing session, a scene showing great restraint in terms of technical aspects, but that excels through the acting and direction. One scene, which had the ability to make me laugh, then turn that laughter to utter discomfort, growing in intensity until I could barely watch, almost teary.

Another acting mention needs to be made for Amy Adams – maybe the true Master? Though not given the majority of the lines, or the screen time, she is always there, beside her husband. She allows Lancaster his pet project in Freddie, but, there is only so far you can accept the defiance before you need to regain control. I won’t tell all, but is the real Master the one who masturbates?

As I said, words are hard to find when discussing this film, rather than strain I shall leave it there. Let me just plead that you watch this film.

One other thing this film does, is put a massive middle finger up to the digital revolution by using a format the digital world cannot come close to touching. We can only applaud that.


– Kieran Stanworth

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