Film: Captivating performances in The Master


September 28th, 2012

Omaha, NE – Can the latest from Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman live up to the Oscar hype? From the Movieha podcast, Ryan Syrek and Matt Lockwood take a look at The Master.

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Ryan: When I first heard that Paul Thomas Anderson, writer/director/personal hero of mine for not only making brilliant films but also once dating Fiona Apple, was making The Master, I was ecstatic.

Matt: Me too! But that was because I thought it was a documentary about the villains in Star Wars or an inspired riff on I Dream of Jeanie.

Ryan: I have yet to see a bad or even average film from Anderson, or PTA as he is known to his friends.

Matt: You’re not his friend. If he knew how you felt about him, he’d file a restraining order.

Ryan: So when I heard he, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, and Philip Seymour Hoffman were teaming up for a film set in the 1950s against a backdrop of the end of World War 2 and would use L. Ron Hubbard and the birth of the Church of Scientology as a point of inspiration, I couldn’t have been happier.

Matt: That’s the truth. You know how little cartoon hearts circle the heads of cartoon characters. He was like that for six months. The Master fictionalizes Hubbard into Lancaster Dodd, played by Hoffman. He’s married to a stern woman, played by Adams, and inexplicably enamored with an alcoholic naval man named Freddie Quell, played by Phoenix. As Dodd struggles with accusations that his new faith is a cult, Freddie struggles with his own inner demons, and the two struggle against each other.

Ryan: The narrative here is loose, as what’s really on display is the juxtaposition of the two characters and various subtle commentaries on life in post-war America. Freddie is a self-destructive hurricane, and Dodd is all blustery narcissism. Watching these two characters played to the hilt by great actors collide with one another is captivating.

Matt: Right. But nothing happens. Adams is totally underused, and the point that PTA is making seems a little too obtuse.

Ryan: While it pains me to say it, I do agree with a few of those concerns, most notably the one on Adams. Still, I think there is a solid point to be made here, something involving the futility of our quest for self-improvement.

Matt: I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I think I’m offended.

Ryan: This is one of those movies that isn’t for everyone, with abstractions galore and plenty of sparse material you’re left to fill in on your own, but the performance from Phoenix alone is one of legend. It’s so dense and layered, it makes me scared to think he may really be like that.

Matt: Yeah, I’m not inviting him to play in my fantasy football league any time soon.

Ryan: The Master is PTA’s worst film yet, which is really saying something about the man who may be the best young director working today, as it’s still really, really, really good.

Editorial note: The Movieha podcast is produced in partnership with The Reader and is available at

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