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performances were incredible, every scene was beautifully lit and the score was wonderful.
However I found the film very taxing to sit through, it just dragged....needlessly
Legend Mara - lighting up our screens since 2009
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T E A M R I V E T T E
I saw this in Chicago earlier in November... it's one of those movies that I walked out of... not entirely sure whether I liked it or not.
I think the reason for this was that it took me a while to digest it all... what I will say is that Phoenix and Hoffman were great and both deserve nominations... not sure about wins... but Adams is just devastating. In the case of the two men, both have created characters that were at once repulsive and attractive, but in Phoenix's case, like a car crash you can't look away from.
It looked great, the script is one of PTA's best (I say this as someone who didn't like PDL or Magnolia) ... the ONLY issue I had was the pacing, there were a few times I was fighting the urge to look at my watch... I was engaged and interested, but kept thinking "this is starting to feel awkwardly long" "where the hell is this going"... but I was honestly relieved it was over.
But this is a VERY good movie...
Romney's less subtle campaign message: "Don't ask questions and just vote for me!!"
I will be haunted by this film in bits and pieces, like remembering a dream. There are moments of such brilliance that they took my breath away (like the fight between Freddy and Lancaster in their prison cells or the final scene between them when Lancaster sings), but I sometimes felt like the intervening moments dragged. How is Amy Adams not receiving more attention for this? Her character was fiercely intelligent and driven, the engine (and puppet master?) behind her husband's reputation.
But the two male leads... and Joaquin... good god. He really is DDL's only competition this year.
Adams was the puppet masturbater here.
So, at first I thought I had seen a great movie (not a masterpiece, though) with some things that bothered me, but the more I think about it, the less I feel like I can talk about it being actually great.
Like the previous PTA film, I think it’s so hermetic that you can think it hides many shades and meanings and considerations and ruminations, but you can also think it’s a rather simplistic affair. Anderson toys a lot, I think, with “face value”. He likes to present things as if there was nothing else but the face value, detachedly leaving you to construe things the way you want, and while it’s good that they leave you room to fill in “meanings” for yourself, it may also come off as if Anderson himself had nothing or not much to say.
In a way, I wouldn’t blame anybody if he/she came out of “The Master” thinking it’s just… a two and a half reiteration of something as obvious as “cults take advantage of people with serious problems and emotional needs”. I myself am not sure it amounts to much more than that, and it’s a rather obvious consideration to make. And worse is that, for some stretches of the film, it seems that the only thing the film is doing is reiterating that rather thin idea again and again, with scene after scene showing Phoenix in great need and quite lost, and Hoffmann using some trick/abuse to present himself and The Cause as the solution to those problems.
The main thing that saved the film from becoming just that for me (although I think its being quite reiterative is a flaw no matter how filled with content it eventually was, this can certainly be said in more succinct but equally expressive ways), is one trait I actually always love about PTA, and that’s an enormous empathy/humanity towards his characters, which was already the best thing about Boogie Nights or Magnolia (although it was strangely absent in TWBB). Here, Freddie could have been seen from above: he’s undoubtedly a mess, someone who feels dumb and does many awful things, but still you care about him and feel his wounds and see his damaged humanity throughout. Anderson doesn’t judge him, to begin with, which is already great, but instead of applying the detached tone he uses towards everything else (including the entirety of his previous film) he builds many scenes so that we understand where he’s coming from and can see the basic humanity in him. It felt somewhat Cassavettes-esque, something to which the wonderful acting by Phoenix and the clever use of close-ups isn’t alien.
Where it succeeds the most, I think, is precisely at the portrait of this personality. Yes, it gets repetitive about that too here and there, but overall it’s a great study of loneliness, of the things we try and misguidedly do when we want to recover from important damages and on how we cling onto the most absurd things (like cults, that could also be religion at large, but that’s where I think Anderson becomes too hermetic to really point at that, although there’s room for interpretation).
But I don’t think it succeeds as much in depicting the character of Dodd Lancaster (not that I think it was Anderson’s true goal, to depict him too) or, especially, the dynamics between the two: that’s where I think he becomes a tad obvious. Yes, cults rely on those tricks and feed of these personalities, I think I got that early on, no need to reiterate it for 40 minutes more and in an ending that feels perfunctory considering how much Anderson had pointed towards that all the time).
I also think the depiction of the cult and the personalities within them feel clichéd and underdeveloped because of some obvious holes in the script. A few examples: when Freddie and Dodd’s son in law go to that doubter’s home to, presumably, beat him (and BTW, I think that’s a miscalculated ellipsis: leaving that out of the frame adds nothing), we later hear nothing about that (the police goes to Dodd because of some fund-raising unlawful deeds, but not because members of his cult have beaten a guy?). Not only that: Dodd’s son in law takes part in that even though Dodd seems to be against such measures (and his son in law should know better than Freddie?) but later he’s the first to mistrust Freddie?; then there’s the daughter sexually advancing on Freddie, a thread that’s abandoned as soon as it appears, and leads nowhere despite how important it feels when it happens; there’s Laura Dern expressing key doubts about the cult (imagining vs. remembering) in a wonderful scene, and again, that leads nowhere; there’s the guy who transcribes Lancaster’s writings, who calls him a terrible writer, Freddie beats him, and nothing happens with that either; At one point Amy Adams looks like a force behind The Cause (when she is all enraged at the doubts expressed by that guy and suggests always attacking as the best possible defence, or in the masturbation scene) only to see her submissive everywhere else, as in the moment when everybody is doubting the convenience of keeping Freddie in the cause and she merely accepts whatever her husband says about it.
I’m not sure how much of it is due to scenes being cut in the editing room, but it certainly results in a cult that’s completely unexplored and underdeveloped (hence precluding possible metaphorical readings of it) and in a dynamic between the cult and Freddie that feels clichéd and not very illuminating.
There’s also the temptation to want to read in this a broader picture, a reading perhaps encouraged by the very detailed period setting and the many details Anderson includes about it. He goes to great lengths to talk about the war veterans and the reincorporation to civil life, directly lifting the Rosarch Test scenes from real events, for instance. So, he seems to be hinting at some post-war state of mind in America that allowed for easy manipulation of the population by forces like cults, but I guess then would have to read The Cause as a stand-in for other powers (political, religious…)
But because so many things surrounding the cult, and so many things that are not Freddies’ personality, felt so underdeveloped (or cut in the editing room) such reading feels possible but not incredibly insightful.
In a way, because so many things are underdeveloped, you could sum up the theme of the film as an “OMG, religion is a sublimation of repressed libido” (and the Rosarch test scene is somewhere between funny and bafflingly obvious). Now, that would be a very simplistic reading, but so many things are so underdeveloped, and some other things are so hermetically presented at face value, that I wouldn’t blame if they reduced the film to that. I think Anderson could have been more articulate about some things he seems to be hinting at, and less redundant and obvious about some other things he overstates.
Overall, I think the first 40-50 minutes are masterful, then things become reiterative and rather obvious, although still peppered with moments of brilliance, and then it ends with a couple of scenes that focus just on the most obvious aspects, diminishing the scope and complexity of what had come before. And I also think the film should probably be re-edited, to cut down some of the more repetitive stuff to leave it more succinct but equally expressive, and add instead the elements from the cult and the 50’s setting that, I’d bet money, have fallen on the editing room.
A very good movie, close to greatness, but with many undeniable problems. I find it telling that, in ten pages of this thread supposedly devoted to reviews, people seem to gush only about cinematography and acting and details, with hardly anybody engaging with the whole picture and trying to express what it means to them. Notice that I say “what it means to them” and not “what it means period”: I’ve read the quibbles of Ladylurks and Lazarus about how art can/must leave the meaning to the audience etc. I agree with that, but still think that doesn’t exonerate the author/auteur from engaging with his chosen subject and being insightful about it, which I don’t think Anderson has been, other than with the part of his movie that strictly has to do with Freddie’s personality.
Speaking of which, I think Phoenix’ performance is absolutely phenomenal, easily the best I’ve seen from him and the best male leading performance I’ve seen this year and in many previous years. Yes, he first builds the character through mannerisms that may feel hammy (the way of talking with just half mouth, the way of walking…), but he totally owns those and makes them feel entirely organic, not calculated, and from there he gives many, many subtle nuances to everything. I’d could go on and on about the differences between a lived-in performance like this one and calculated actorly shows, but this post is already too long. So just look at Phoenix’ eyes movements through the movie, pay attention to whom he looks at and when in each scene, and you’ll see that it cannot be the product of calculation, but the product of being 100% in character and instinctively reacting as the character.
I need to watch this again. I also have problems with the screenplay, things are either unresolved or underdeveloped. The first half of the film is absolutely brilliant, but the second half feels repetitive and empty. But I really want to watch it again, because it's such a dreamy and abstract cinematic experience, and I'm sure there are plenty of thing to discover here. It's definitely the most ambitious American film of the year and one of the very best, because of its scope and complexity.
I loved the cinematography, the production design, the score and the costume design. Especially the cinematography. The acting was fantastic and I nominate Phoenix, Hoffman and Adams. But I thought Adams was the MVP here. Like, her role was underdeveloped (unfortunately), but she was chilling. Her big scenes were fantastic, and there was this hypnotic quality on her face during scenes where she's just in the background or she's 'teaching' Freddie during the Application 45 scene. Fantastic work. She stood her own next to the extremely showy parts of Hoffman and Phoenix.
This is back in Toronto in 70mm so i guess I should see it.
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