‘The Master’ Early Reactions: Fantastic Direction & Stunning Performances

Published 2 years ago by , Updated June 20th, 2014 at 11:52 am,

philip seymour hoffman master The Master Early Reactions: Fantastic Direction & Stunning Performances

Paul Thomas Anderson’s followup to There Will Be Blood, The Master, was recently bumped up to a September start date for its awards-contending theatrical run. However, Santa Monica residents who attended last Friday’s screening of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining were treated to an even earlier look at Anderson’s latest (which was the surprise second half of a double-feature).

The Master takes inspiration from the life of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, but appears to use those biographical elements as a stepping stone for a powerful tale that’s rich in symbolism and looks/sounds like a companion piece to There Will Be BloodTrailers for The Master tease arresting performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman (also Amy Adams, to a lesser degree) – but do early reactions and reviews back that assessment?

Fortunately, the answer is a resounding yes so far, with Phoenix singled out as delivering his career-best work in Anderson’s film. Most of the reactions come from everyday cinephiles, rather than professional critics and/or bloggers. Then again, that’s the section of the fan community most likely to actually see The Master in theaters, so their assessments are certainly worth noting.

[SIDENOTE: The following reactions are SPOILER-FREE.]

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Here’s a reaction from one such fellow (by the name Victor Escobar):

“Don’t want to say more than a few words about it but it is an all around excellent film. I’ve yet to see one bad PSH performance but this one may be his best. 2hrs 10 min. Will get nods for Picture. Good chance of winning original screenplay and acting awards. If it were me, I’d put them both in the Best Actor category but if one them is getting the supporting nod, its Hoffman. It will have its fair share of detractors and its not a “safe” choice. If you guys can, see The Master in 70 mm. Looked gorgeous and its the way P.T Anderson wants you to see it. “

Hollywood Elsewhere has posted the following critique (from another well-spoken movie geek):

“I’m still digesting everything I saw, but it was pretty amazing. It was like a strange fever dream. [But] not audience friendly AT ALL. An ambiguous ending and not one likable character. And without any ‘milkshake’ lines, it probably won’t have the breakthrough that There Will Be Blood had… There are three or four scenes between Phoenix and Hoffman that are barn burners. It also containts the best work Amy Adams has ever done… Phoenix WILL win Best Actor unless Daniel Day Lewis blows us away with [his] Lincoln performance. This is Raging Bull territory for him. Believe it or not, his performance is stranger than that fake doc he made. The only way I can describe him is ‘animalistic.’ (I think the Master title refers to more of a dog and his master. At least that was the vibe I got).. The style feels like Terrence Malick by way of There Will Be Blood.”

amy adams the master The Master Early Reactions: Fantastic Direction & Stunning Performances

Amy Adams and Joaquin Phoenix in 'The Master'

Here’s a reaction that’s closest to a full-blown review, from Hit Fix‘s source at the Master screening:

“I’ll get the (semi) negatives out of the way first. Because everyone will do this, and because it is merited, I will knock out the ‘There Will Be Blood’ comparisons. Stylistically and tonally they are of a piece. And that, in my eyes, is both a positive and a negative. Positive because I think he has honed in on style that can connote themes and display a character’s psyche in the best and most compelling way. Negative because it was such a fresh and overwhelming sucker punch of a feeling when seeing it in ‘Blood,’ and that might be a little diluted here. And that is only a thing I bring up because I feel like people might think that, and it is a little unfair.  Also, “Blood” had such a strong narrative through-line because of the intensely-focused main character, and The Master tends to meander. It has a strong sense of theme and is always compelling, but it does seem a little aimless in sections. BUT–and I tend not to say this too much–I think that has much more to do with the plight of the character, who is very much aimless in this film.

“That out of the way, all of the things you might be excited about live up to expectations AND MORE. It is never less than visually stunning. The music fits the style perfectly (actually enhances it), and, as I already texted you, actually wavers and strays from the anxiety-inducing percussion to lush and beautiful in some parts. The period detail is impeccable. The production design and costumes are incredible and always believable. Most importantly, of course: The performances are AMAZING. And I don’t use the word ‘amazing’ unless I mean it. Phoenix had me *slightly* worried with the teasers that he might come off too ticky, but it is quite an accomplishment. It’s rare to see a performance where I was legit worrying about the other actors in the scene–that’s how unpredictable a powder keg he was. I could not ever predict what he was going to do next (the performer and the character). Sometimes P.T. just holds on his face for an extended period of time and it is so, so moving/funny/sad/disgusting–ALL AT ONCE. Hoffman is much bigger than I thought he would be, but his vacillations from cool/collected to explosive and scary were always believable. And Adams is great and her character and performance grow in power and stature are the movie goes on.

“The film is about 2 hours 10 minutes, but honestly felt longer than that. I *do* think it could be tightened. But it’s a unique vision pushed forward and is unlike anything else out there (besides his past work). There are moments that are heartbreaking and funny and melancholic all in the same beat, and that is an fantastic feat. I would say it’s always good with some great, great moments and scenes peppered throughout.

“A side note: Much of the material from the first couple teaser trailers is not in the film. And when it is, there are different takes used. Just thought that was interesting.”

master trailer joaquin phoenix The Master Early Reactions: Fantastic Direction & Stunning Performances

Joaquin Phoenix in 'The Master'

So, here’s a quick breakdown of early reactions to The Master:

  • Phoenix delivers a stunning, tour-de-force, performance that’s somehow more unhinged and hypnotic than his (fake) public meltdown in the doc I’m Still Here.
  • Hoffman and Adams bring their acting A-games and hold their own against Phoenix.
  • The Master carries over the mixture of formalism and Anderson’s stunning visual approach from There Will Be Blood, but forgoes narrative drive in favor of a meandering dreamlike structure.

Furthermore, it seems Master is told from the perspective of Phoenix’s character, whose deteriorating mindset makes him all the less stable a narrator than Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love. Anderson’s latest appears to lie somewhere between that film and There Will Be Blood, as far as overall style and tone are concerned (an intriguing storytelling approach, for sure).

The Master begins a limited theatrical release in the U.S. on September 14th, 2012.

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Source: Hit Fix, Hollywood Elsewhere [via Collider]

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23 Comments

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  1. Can’t wait for this film. Big fan of Paul T Anderson. He is one of those few directors out there who are yet to make a bad film.

  2. Good to see Phoenix back playing in a traditional film. Did that mochumentary seriously black ball him from Hollywood for like 5 years or did he just take time off. I personally thought it was pretty funny.

    Ne ways Can’t wait. Also looking forward to Phoenix playing in Spike Jonze upcommig film.

  3. That’s not Amy Adams sitting on the bench with Phoenix.

  4. Interesting take!

    I thought you might be interested in two old-school Hollywood veteran’s perspective of The Master
    You can see their review on YouTube

  5. The stunning visuals and delectible storyline entice you to want to keep watching. But, for all of you viewers that have a hard time with nudity and sex…you need to know that you will be seeing that too. If you are uncomfortable with full nudity and unhidden sexual acts,then be prepared to squirm as you watch this. There is no warning. Granted that there is meaning in these scenes and it gives you an insight into how the characters handle their relationships while coping with their complicated lives…but,if you don’t like to see these things in a public theater…be prepared.

    • what story-ine???? I have no problem w/nudity and sex…this movie truly SUCKS…it belongs up there w/ “Eyes Wide Shut” and “In the bedroom”. Horrible movies that had the critiques all gaga!

  6. What??????????????I consider myself to be somewhat of a conissieur of movies and especially love quirky and independent films. This movie SUCKS!!!!! I was actually angry when I left the movie–it was so completely self-indulgent on the part of the actors as well as the director. It’s like they made it for themselves only. There is absolutely no story here–no plot line, no redeeming characters, absolutely nothing interesting…if you don’t know the story of L Ron Hubbard, then you must have been living on another planet. Juaquin Phoenix is absolutely vomit and cringe worthy. He’s so gross, I felt dirty when I left, but not in a good way…if you know what I mean. He just so over-acts this part. Yuk, Yuk, Yuk. I will tell everybody to pass on this one. I bet i’tll be on DVD in a matter of weeks.

    • You tell’em Sherry….you are a gifted and insightful person.

  7. This movie was a sham. I had heard that it was about L. Ron Hubbard’s life, but I was ashamed to see all the stupid sex scenes. I now realize that if a movie has sex scenes or is over the top stupid that the critics will give it a high rating. I’m going with audience reviews from now on. By the way, this movie DID NOT represent L. Ron Hubbard. The director indicates that it’s not about Hubbard (Wikipedia), yet puts in so many similarities to Hubbard, and then he misrepresents the facts and makes Scientology look like sex cult. I hope the church sues him for defamation of character.

  8. This film left me numb. The story line, if one can call it that, was a anything one wants it to be. A messionic l.Ron Hubbrd fighting to avoid revealing his homosexuality is my take on this film. Superb acting and technical excellence in its filmography.

  9. This movie was a complete joke. I was sitting for the first twenty or so minutes semi-enthralled, because I didn’t understand what was going on. I thought things would start to make sense and it would take some semblance of a plot. But it didn’t. After the first forty-five minutes I had my head in my hands praying that it would end. I was at the movie with friends; otherwise I would have just walked out.
    The whole cult storyline was at first somewhat interesting but completely lost its luster. It seemed forced, poorly thought out, poorly acted, and did not in any way mesh with Joaquin Phoenix’s character. It was a contrivance with which Anderson didn’t know what to do. By the time Hoffman and Phoenix are screaming inane obscenities at each other in the jail, the film lost me. And after that “emotional confrontation” (or laughable overacting and unoriginal plot development) the film goes nowhere; the plot just stops, the cult ceases to be engaging or provocative, and you get sick of seeing the characters’ contorted faces–sick of seeing Hoffman’s bombast and Phoenix’s “Oh look at me, I’m such a rad actor” mental instability. Speaking of Phoenix, all this hullaballoo over how great he is reminds me of that scene in Tropic Thunder where Robert Downey Jr. tells Ben Stiller that they always give Oscars to people who are mentally disabled–”that’s what the Academy is all about.” Well, to me, the accolades Phoenix gets for portraying a character with whom we cannot identify–whose story we can’t decipher or care to find out because we’re too distracted by his random acts of screaming, kicking, drinking, and facial contortions–point out the truth of Downey’s quote.
    Not to mention the completely unnecessary “shock sex” throughout the film. We get it, Anderson–Freddie Quell is a pervert. But he beats us over the head with a shovel with random sex acts everywhere that don’t enhance the plot or develop characters. They’re just supposed to make you cringe. Inserting a hand-job into a conversation between Hoffman and his wife? Oh yes, that’s completely necessary. In one scene, Hoffman is singing and dancing with lots of people. Camera cuts to Phoenix. Back to Hoffman’s dancing–and suddenly all the women in the room are naked. This inexplicable, needless scene drags on for several more minutes, and it has literally nothing to do with anything. Maybe Anderson thought he would get more kudos from critics if he emulated The Shining with naked old women or something.
    Anyway, it’s a shame that this film is being so universally acclaimed, because it is terrible and a waste of time.

    • What a vulgar, adolescent, pointless waste of celluloid….everyone from the accountants, the producers, the screenwriters, the actors, the caterers and infact, absolutely everyone involved in the making of this unartful film should all just leave town and find new careers. No redeeming qualities at all, none, zip, zero, nada, zilch. It matters not how well you act when your film project is so pathetically written and structured. I recommend a class action suit to recover our admission price…..the time we lost, we can be forgiven for, as the trailors for the film were not even included in the final cut….we have all been duped. For shame, for shame.

      • Re: the trailer scenes not being included – I agree.

        I kept waiting for Joachim Phoenix to ask/beg/demand the Hoffman character to “tell me something true”.

        I thought Dodd’s (the Hoffman character’s) son’s “You know he’s making this all up as he goes along” line should have been further delved into.

  10. A very good and interesting movie. I did not fully understand all of it but still got enough pleasure out off. It gives you a lot to think and talk about afterwards. Besides, the movie is so well acted and well filmed I was never bored.

  11. Agree with Wilt and Hal: terrible movie. Mso looking forward tovit too… I echo Wilt’s sentiments.

  12. Fantastic review! Here’s mine if you would like to read?
    http://mostrecentlywatched.wordpress.com/2012/10/03/themaster

  13. Fine acting – yes. Befuddled screipt – yes.

    I found irksome the endless feeling in every frame that screams:
    ‘This, Is. An. Important. Film.’

  14. Capsule review: “Joachim Phoenix kisses sand sculptures, and Philip Seymour Hoffman is an ‘important’ actor.”

    Art film, maybe, Schmart film? Far from it.

  15. I will see anything PSH does without a 2 nd thought. This film was what good theater is for me , rattles me.
    I wil never look at another addict or mentally I’ll person as I may have in the past. This explains my good theater
    comment.

    • I’m glad you were moved. I was not.

  16. ‘The Master’,is definitively Paul Thomas Anderson’s best film to date;if not his most controversial.The stakes were high, with very little margin for error.I’m glad to say:’he has pulled it off’.
    He has ruffled alot of feathers with those scientologists people.This could prove detrimental to his career.These people dont joke!I remember 14 years ago when I was going through some turmoil and was befriended by some bird in the street.One day,I had some free time; so I decided to go along for the ride- just to see what this thing was.In a building I was sat down,then handed a questionaire with dozens of multiple choice questions to answer.Prior to this, I was told: ‘there is no wrong or right answer – think of the first thing that comes to your mind’.
    I now know that the examination was something called ‘a personality test’.What psychologists call ‘introspection’.Recording thoughts as they

  17. …occur.’After the session, I didn’t know what to make of the experience.I became scared.It seemed a bit bizarre.
    I never went back.Though coeursed from time to time I would see the recruiter:’we’d say: ‘hello’ and then I’d say: ‘goodbye’.
    Ironically,8 years later my dear naive mum had dealings with these people.
    I give these people credit…they are persistent.It became so bad they began to stalk.
    But you see I warned her.
    They began brainwashing her. Made her feel welcome;then indoctrinated her with:’Money is power’and was encouraged to make hefy donations- which she failed to comply with.Eventually,after 3 to 4 months of continual harassment.They left decided to leave her alone. After numerous phone calls and letters- but no response.

  18. Watching ‘The Master’ alot of things rang alot of truth to me. Anderson was bold and risque at times.Is suggestive;leaves little to the imagination,but executed in such a way not to insult the audience’s intelligence.What people must realise is that what PTA has made is a motion picture- a melodrama.A expensive one at that.$50 million dollars.
    This is what in the future he must resist doing. Making a film that cost more than $30 million dollars.No matter which big name producer wants to back his film or star wants endorse the potential box office success.
    He must remain to true to his roots.For he is not a director, he is a exceptional filmaker.As a screenwriter/ director he can make a low budget film go a long way with his story telling skills.
    Come awards season expect PTA to walk away empty handed,but either Hoffmann or Phoenix to win numaerous best actor awards. 1

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