The Master: “The Best Film of the new Decade!”

The Master: “The Best Film of the new Decade!”

Review by: Tory Smith

Director& Screenwriter: Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Laura Dern

Pre-Show: Delayed Anticipation

“It’s a film that truly is masterful.”-Laura Seay

                Months ago I saw a clip of The Master. It was Joaquin Phoenix cutting a coconut from a tree followed by intense shots of Phoenix in various locations (a boat, the beach, an interrogation type room). His expressions were more than intense, but terrifying. The shots cut to a black screen and The Master in white. I knew from just the clip that this film was a future reckoning. It invoked importance and an openness of thought just from the expressions of its protagonist (guessing Phoenix was such). I was accompanied to the theatre by my dear friend and talented colleague Laura Seay (Superbad). We sat down in our seats in anticipation. As the film was to begin, there happened to be a problem; a glitch if you will. Something was wrong with the film I suppose. It was not able to operate through the 70mm as it was shot. We had to settle for a lower number. We were informed of these technical difficulties. To I and Laura’s dismay, it would be another 5 to 10 minutes before the film would begin. The theatre was packed. An audible sound of disappointment roared from the seats. A few left, more grumbled, and in my opinion, few us of knew what “not in 70mm” actually meant (including myself). My only hope was that it was going to look similar to the trailers I viewed: vintage, exciting, with intriguing cinematography. As the film began and second time-static, then out. Another glitch!

                I then started to mentally gather what my next week was going to look like in order to reschedule the viewing. I wondered if I had to then wait in a long line for a refund. Was the film going to resemble a bootleg visual one would buy from a sketchy van in Inglewood, or worse, The Valley!

                To our comfort we were set to commence this cinematic event a third and final time. Without upcoming trailers (due to the technical difficulties and time delays) The Master appropriately started without introduction.

Review: “This makes every other film seem silly.”


                The story follows Freddie Quell, a naval veteran on the tail end of his time served. We follow Freddie and his alcoholic, destructive journey back to civilization. And honestly that’s all I want to give away from the intricate plot. I understand numerous reviews will give more to what the film is about, but it’s misleading when you blur the lines of describing details of the plot with bias of personal opinions to describe the plot. I want to share just my personal experience and opinions with this particular movie. There are numerous themes, emotions, and directions people can choose for themselves. This movie deserves the right for an individual perspective because it was such an event.

                Laura said it was a film that didn’t try to understand how great it was; it simply was great. Epic in its scale. I would honestly describe it as the best film of the new decade. Why? What makes this film that amazing? Laura stated, “This makes every other film seem silly.” Truer words were never spoken.

                It’s funny how “The Master” played by the consistent brilliance of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, spoke about the aspect of the “animal” in regards to the human being. This film depicts that very notion of the human animal, and how the soul of a human creature can become plagued with fear, and in turn exercises dangerous and manipulated actions. Nearly every character in the film wanted their side and perspective to be right and needed others to believe it in order for it to be justified. It brought to mind why an individual wants to be the most popular of his or her high school, or the dictatorship of an individual wanting worldwide domination. It brought to mind the religious binds that have confounded civilizations for centuries. Regardless of how a person or group isolates itself, one factor holds true: they all need someone to connect to it; to believe. Laura spoke about how the internet, for example, regardless of how “anonymous” one is, is still a mechanism and tool in order to connect with other people.

                The screenplay is a fearless piece of writing. It speaks about its subject, but has room to make it subtle. It continues to have the audience think. It has a clever way of protecting its subject matter and doesn’t judge in order to explain or give some type of agreeable resolution. It just continues its storytelling. I LOVE how it isn’t a “fairy-tale” fiction. It’s its own truth, set in reality; if this existed, this is how it would realistically live in the world. As an audience, we discover how it would realistically live because it resembles a truth that already exists, and that truth is Scientology.

                No matter how the creative and talent behind the film tries to explain that film is not based on the creation and legacy of Scientology, the similarities are just too damn obvious. And that’s all I have to say about that.

The performances are terrifyingly amazing. Mary Louise Parker said on accepting the Emmy for her now legendary performance of Harper in Angeles in America that some parts are written so well that you win awards the day you win the part. It rings so true for this film and its actors. However, in order to elevate your words on the page, talent is needed. The talent was blatantly there. Hoffman, Phoenix, Adams, and Dern are some of the best of their (and probably any) generation. In The Master they simply excel to another level.  With material so rich, it’s as if Paul Thomas Anderson knew when and how to give the actors the room to experiment and play.

 The actors are all on the brink of a revelation.

 Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a bulldog of contradictions as his Lancaster Dodd unleashes a range of tragic comedy, demented manipulation, and this sincere and quite honest compassion for his beliefs and subjects that gives the story its “non-judgment” quality. Hoffman is “The Master” of his craft. He is what every actor (male or female) should strive to follow.


Amy Adams surprises me yet again, with a ferocious turn as Hoffman’s pregnant wife Peggy Dodd. First introduced, there is a comfort she exudes. As the story progresses, you realize she’s all for “The Cause.” She is nearly the co-creator of the movement. In a role (that I wish had even more) of very modest proportions, she commands every scene she is a part of.

Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quill evokes the spirit of Marlon Brando’s succession into film. Every morsel in Phoenix’s body became that man. It’s a performance for the ages. You almost wonder what lengths the man playing the challenging character went to in order to play him so cathartically. I didn’t know what he was going to do next.  It’s a type of performance that I feel, everything else Phoenix has played led to this character in this particular film. I RARLEY say this, but he was brilliant.

As much of an awards buff as I am, I wouldn’t care if this film receives  any awards it most certainly deserves (though it would be too hard to ignore Academy!!). I honestly doubt any film will live up to the caliber this film has produced this year.

Paul Thomas Anderson has created a masterpiece. He is a genius even more than he was. I can’t express the IMMENSE respect I have for this piece of work. I am amazed and incredibly thankful these people have brought this film to life. It’s an American classic. One of the best films I’ve seen in such a long time.

Tory Smith

September 14, 2012.