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An antisocial, sex-obsessed, PTSD-addled WWII naval veteran named Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) returns to America and struggles to re-join post-war society. The one thing he can do well is cook-up moonshine, which brings him into contact with Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the leader of a philosophical movement known as ‘The Cause.’ Lancaster finds himself fascinated by Freddie and welcomes him into the fold in hopes of ‘curing’ his ails via psychological exercises. Freddie’s erratic behaviour begins to drive a wedge between other members of ‘The Cause,’ including Lancaster’s zealot wife, Peggy (Amy Adams).

 Master, The
Paul Thomas Anderson’s return to film after his award winning There Will Be Blood is another solid, confident and downright unique feeling film that is quite unlike anything we’ve seen for a while. His storytelling abilities aren’t the sort of thing that will appeal to all but those who love his work (I’m counting myself in that crowd) get a tale here that twists itself tighter and tighter and in many ways is quite reminiscent  of Anderson’s previous work on Punch Drunk Love.

Of course The Master also shows how far Anderson has come since Punch Drunk Love too. He still keeps his story very personal to his characters but his scale has grown so much in just a couple of movies and he makes these epic feeling films without losing a grasp of the core.

The core here is Freddie and Joaquin Phoenix’s return from crazy town a few years ago (whatever the hell that was) is used very well here. This is a performance where the character is 100% there. You feel his frustration, he’s anger, and even when Joaquin is still, there’s something boiling beneath the surface, like he’s disconnecting from the world around him and he’s struggling to find a way back.

 Master, The
His way back in comes via Lancaster Dodd and of course Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance here is, as always stellar. Hoffman is always great but he always seems to be even better when he’s with Anderson. The dialogue feels built for Hoffman, he literally eats it up and controls every scene he’s in. He’s also backed up by Amy Adams, who’s side line performance works wonders when she sits quietly and watches but spits venom when she throws in her thoughts on the state of The Cause.

The Master ends up being a story about control. Control of oneself and control of others. As with most philosophical movements or cults, there’s a whole lot of sense in much of teachings but the dark side to the organisation is always there underneath the surface. Paul Thomas Anderson makes the whole ordeal about mood. Sure, we find out plenty about the characters but the big draw here is the mood generated out of each scene, the tensions, the potential for explosion or Freddie’s inability to quite fit in and how his post war mis-wiring might be fixed or broken forever.

For me, The Master is a film I am in awe of artistically but somehow it didn’t quite bridge a gap for me to go as far as to say that I loved it. The performances are amazing. The mood and general build in all the things the Cause set out to do utterly compelling but somewhere in here I felt that I was always kept at arm’s length when it came to being truly welcomed in the world of The Master. It could be an intentional thing on Anderson’s part, making The Cause more about what the audience think about it rather than spelling it out but with the focus split between Frankie himself as well as his interactions with Lancaster Dodd, The Master ended up being a film I loved watching but struggled to say I felt any connection with somehow.

 Master, The

Video


Shot on 65mm film, The Master immediately looks gorgeous. The first shot of Joaquin Phoenix with his naval helmet on is just striking how rich in detail and texture it is. Every bobble on the metallic helmet is apparent, every crease in Phoenix’s face and how the natural light illuminates everything in the shot provides incredibly deep black shadows to counter the sharpness of the edges.
 
Everything improves from there and arguably The Master proves to be a reference quality disc. The depth of the image is always impressive, the fearless approach to darkness in frames is very well handled and when a scene is under natural light it’s a joy to see a film without orange and teal overkill in the colourisation department. Everything within this film looks natural and the only boost HD gives it is in texture and natural glow.

On to the details, everything here is pretty amazing. Costumes look especially textured, so much so you can almost feel their weight and feel. Faces are full of skin blemishes, wrinkles and sharp edged stubble.

There’s an argument raging in Hollywood at the moment over the positive and negatives aspects of using film or going digital and it has to be said The Master is a solid argument for the benefits of film. It just looks noticeably more striking than the abundance of digitally shot movies we see on Blu-ray of late. There’s some inconsistencies with grain levels here and there but nothing that doesn’t feel part of the film’s design. This is one pretty looking Blu-ray presentation.

 Master, The

Audio


The strong overwhelming score that drives the entire film is so well placed within this track that is becomes an unseen character. It’s very bassy, it swells through the surround system as the power grows and it even manages to sit quietly in the front speakers when it’s just there to underpin the mood of the scenes. Jonny Greenwood’s use of strings and the tenderness or furious power they can generate is yet another fine score from the Radiohead member and a key to the drive of this film.

The crisp natural sounding dialogue and unpinning ambience is also very well positioned in the track. General chatter, the open sea, or a suburban neighbourhood manage to feel full and natural without ever overstepping their boundaries. The film sounds quiet but in a very realistic way, the world of The Master is alive but knows when the focus needs to shift to a characters dialogue or the beating of the film’s heartbeat in that wonderfully effective score.

 Master, The

Extras


The disc opens with trailers for Killing Them Softly and  Silver Linings Playbook. Then on to the film’s extras we start with ‘Back Beyond’ (20:00 HD) which is a series of outtakes and extra scenes.
‘Unguided Message -  Behind the scenes’ (08:01 HD) is raw footage from the shoot as we watch the cast and crew work.

The incredibly effective Teasers and  Trailers (16:37 HD) are a great watch and it was good to revisit them. Lastly ‘Let There Be Light’ is a 1946 documentary by John Huston. This 58 Minute study of  post War Veterans and their discussions with doctors about their experiences is very much something that informed Joaquin Phoenix’s performances and it’s fascinating stuff.

 Master, The

Overall


I said in my review that The Master is difficult to love but after revisiting it here on Blu-ray I feel myself edging closer to forming a bond with the film. There’s something about the mood here, the solid performances and the film’s discussions that lure me ever closer to falling in love with this new Paul Thomas Anderson film and I sort of dig that it’s a slow burning thing.

The disc itself looks absolutely stunning. The audio is overpowering but subtle all at the same time and the extras, while loose are a great watch. The Master won’t be for everyone but those who found themselves almost there after the first viewing, might just find themselves falling for the film’s many charms the second time through, I know I did.


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