Ever read Russian short stories? The way they involve all sorts of histrionics, people yammering? But in the end, you can't really say much happened?
Well, the missus and I both thought of The Master that way. It kept treading the same emotional ground, and at the end of the day you can't say anything much significant happened. What's the deal here? We Yanks don't make movies like that (oh, right – we do, don't we?). Anyway, Missus ate mucho popcorn and I almost fell asleep several times as we tried to stave off story-line boredom.
That's the bad news – now the good.
The acting was superb. Philip Seymour Hoffman as the Master and Joaquin Phoenix as his goofy protege couldn't have played their parts better, and that includes Amy Adams as Hoffman's steely wife, and Laura Dern in a bit part. Hoffman was his usual, commanding, bombastic presence, and Phoenix added yet another creepy part to his resume. The movie takes place in the early 1950s, following WWII, and the set and costumes fit the age perfectly.
I've probably been too harsh above on the story line, but it was a slow burn that flickered and went out with hardly a warming touch. Or maybe, despite the acting, the script put too much distance between movie and viewer. As we talked about it on the way home, the only overarching point I could come up with was that as The Master's bunch sought meaning following that epic war through Dianetic-like processing and imagining past lives, Phoenix was a humanoid that insisted on being free to pander to his senses.
I know, that's a pretty lame assessment, but it's the best I can come up with. It was a movie you really want to like, but I couldn't. Just couldn't.
My rating 12 of 20 stars