Due to my intrigue and love for Philip Seymour Hoffman and as a post-mortem Oscars tribute, I recently made the decision to rent The Master on demand. After all, two hours rife with PSH and Amy Adams couldn't possibly be anything but fantastic, right? The Master is their second of two films together, the first being the deeply philosophical and dry-humor infused Doubt. Doubt was two hours of pure on-screen brilliance and not attributed solely to its all-star Meryl-inclusive cast. The film was thought-provoking, raw and real. It penetrated the core of the best of us, making us ponder the essence of the most seemingly mundane human emotions. We left Doubt questioning what was truth and what was fiction, finding ourselves stuck in the mental space in between. It had that tangible intensity that gives dramatic films their heart.
The Master, on the other hand, embodied nearly none of the aforementioned qualities. While I can partially appreciate what the film set out to accomplish, when the final credits rolled, I was left not so much in the space between fact and fiction but instead at the crossroads of confusion and annoyance. Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, an alcoholic World War II veteran who we watch morph from fragile at the film's inception to completely broken. During his nearly two hour demise, we watch as Phillip Seymour Hoffman's preacher/motivational speaker Lancaster Dodd attempts to stop him from crumbling. In scene after scene, we hear Hoffman hypnotizing and preaching to Phoenix as well as other groups of people on the likes of free will, attempting to heal their deepest set problems and dry the tears of their damaged souls. I'll be honest, there were times during this film when I was not sure whether I was watching a documentary on Scientology, witchcraft, or any of several other illegal religious practices. Perhaps the most intense scene came when Dodd (Hoffman) hurled a rapid-fire sequence of personal inquisitions at Freddie, mandating that he not blink all the while. It was a clear attempt on his part at hypnosis but which came across more like an exorcism to the common viewer. By the time the strangely intense scene came to a close, I was completely exhausted. And not in a good way.
I really cannot concisely sum up an overall take on the film in my usual last witty sentence or two...it was simply too out of the ordinary to do so. What I will say is this -- if you are in the mood to be confused, stupefied, and mildly disturbed all at the same time, The Master is definitely for you. Seriously, go run and rent it right now. If you're not, though, I would advise that you steer clear of this adeptly-cast-but-poorly-done docudrama. All that said, I am cutting PSH his losses on this one and will optimistically wait for his next sure bet...no doubt.