Find us on facebook

Saturday, February 9, 2013

"The Master", under the auteur cult

The Master

Another example, perhaps one of the finest to add to my recurrent debate on the purpose of cinema and the concept of auteur. Paul Thomas Anderson has, in my opinion, three extraordinary films in his, to date, great career: "Boogie Nights", "Magnolia" and "Punch-Drunk Love". An ok debut with "Hard Eight", and then two movies where everything has become too "intellectual": "There Will Be Blood" and now, "The Master". I think I will call it the "Malick's syndrome", or the "Dude, where's my movie syndrome?". 

Perfectionism and ambition should be considered virtues on a filmmaker. Also being a polariser of audiences isn't bad per se (probably producers won't agree), as it usually means the director takes risks and wants to leave the mainstream pattern. Anderson, like Malick, have been following their own path since they decided to put themselves behind a camera. But rejecting commercial success doesn't automatically mean making great movies.

Anderson's way of filming is pure perfection. It's pointless to waste time trying to find something to criticiseize in what regards to technical aspects, so critics, you can sharp your pens here and look for the most bombastic praise: it will be more than deserved. On the other hand, I don't agree with the annoying score of Radiohead's Johnny Greenwood, who repeats all the tricks we heard on "There Will Be Blood".

As a matter of fact, "There Will Be Blood" and "The Master" seems to be connected. Both are epic, reflective depictions of human behaviour in heavy turmoil. Both are spectacular, uncomfortable and absorbing study-characters. And both have deep resonances with the country in which they both take place: the United States. But for me the difference lies on what Anderson cares about their stories. While on "There Will Be Blood", the "superficial" story, the oil prospection, was the solid pillar among the film evolved, on "The Master" there's not much for the audience to keep them focused on.
Indeed, the main attraction on "The Master" comes from the mind-blowing performances of two gigantic actors, Joaquim Phoenix as the tortured Freddie Quell and the infallible Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a peculiar cult named The Cause in post-WWII America, plus the more subtle but equally powerful work of Amy Adams as Hoffman's wife. Their relationships and attitudes are what keeps the viewer connected with the film. But unfortunately that means "The Master" works better as a collection of distorted scenes that will blow your mind, not really as cohesive unit. Each time Hoffman and Phoenix share screen the film ignites, but the narrative structure doesn't allow that intensity to last. Anderson trio of characters should be included among the most-complex, fascinating and absorbing that have been ever written in cinema. But even the best characters need a story in which they evolve.

My concern is that I'm sure Anderson made his film less straightforward, more oblique, on purpose, convinced that credits him as a better auteur. The superficial story of the cult, on which the clash and connection of the two leading roles arise, had an incredible potential in its own. Fanaticism, religion, loyalty and belief, with the Scientology clearly on the background... But Anderson doesn't care about telling us a story, abandoning the cult subject and letting his film sinking into a regrettable chaos. Yes, at times its a highly and perversely attractive chaos, thanks to his filmmaking talents and propelled by the amazing actors. But the lack of cohesion and direction results into a frustrating and forgettable film as a whole, once finished.  

Powerful, masterfully filmed, with a superb trio of actors ready to knock you out with their performances... but at the same time little direction, resulting on, for me, a failed film.

SCORE: 5,75/10

No comments:

Post a Comment