Review: 'The Master' Has Brilliant Visuals in Narrowly Flawed Story

The Master Paul Thomas Anderson for the most part, has always appeared in control of his career. Whether it's his screenplays, the intricate detailing of his direction, or the years between projects, he gives an impression of someone who tells stories he wants to tell and creates them as immaculately as he can. The Master is no exception with nearly five years between it and There Will Be Blood, but Anderson's latest is a grand spectacle of world-building, a feast for the eyes, oftentimes distracting you from the chops found in the narrative. The strokes are broad and beautiful, and a few bristles that fall out of place almost go unnoticed.

The story is easy to tell. A man can't find his way to fit in with society. A group takes him in. Good and bad ensue, and lies and betrayals reveal themselves. Simple enough. But Anderson's story of Freddie Quell, a World War II-era "able-bodied seaman" with a knack for taking jokes past that comfort point, is much richer than its structure, one the writer/director used to great extent in his break-out, Boogie Nights. Anderson sets tones with his scenes, builds an atmosphere through space, acting, and sound. The tone he lays on heavy right from the beginning is that of discomfort. The Master and There Will Be Blood could be the start of a new genre Anderson has created called Discomfort, and Freddie Quell could rank right at the top of this genre's mascot list.

Freddie wants to fit in somewhere, anywhere, after he returns from the war, all with less than thrilling results. Even when the man tries to do good, his brashness and social awkwardness - Yes, you could even say quite a bit of ignorance is at play - end up turning the group against him. He's lost at sea, so to speak, and his prayers are answered when he meets Lancaster Dodd, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Dodd, like Anderson, is a man who appears in control, a science fiction novelist who has created a religious organization, The Cause. At first, Freddie feels welcomed in the group, slipping quickly into something of a Master's Pet to Dodd. It isn't long before Freddie discovers The Cause may not have the answers he's looking for, and Dodd may not be the man he appears to be. Read more

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