Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Film Review: The Master (2012)
The fact that the film looks great and features top-notch acting can't paper over the fact that it doesn't muster a coherent point of view or purpose. The film's main focus is on the relationship between Freddie and Lancaster, and just on that basis the film is a total bust. Freddie is such a witless, loutish fuckup it makes no sense for Lancaster to keep him around. Freddie is the kind of person who makes other people feel intensely uncomfortable and/or creeped out, and Lancaster's inner circle certainly don't seem to like him, so why is Lancaster taken with him? There's no hint of a sexual attraction so we're left with the realization that their illogical relationship is simply the result of bad screenwriting.
The Master also suffers from a surfeit of what could be called arthouse film aesthetic. In practical terms this means scenes are extended past their natural expiration date; meaningful pauses abound; eye-catching shots and artful production design takes precedence over narrative; sequences that should be cut aren't; dialogue is prolix and redundant; and character motivation is always opaque. Writer/diretor Paul Thomas Anderson takes the blame for all this, and unfortunately his stock has been trending downward ever since the superlative Boogie Nights. All his films since then have featured superb acting performances, but his craft as a storyteller has become clumsy and murky. This is hands down Anderson's worst film, and the generally favorable, even fawning, reviews it's received reflect the enthusiasm critics have for Anderson's visual craft and way with actors rather than for his ability to make a film that's as smart as it is sharp-looking. The Master is certainly the best-looking film I've seen in quite a while, but it's also, like Freddie, the most empty-headed.