When Phillip Seymour Hoffman passed away earlier this year, I was a bit surprised. Not only was he "too young" (as if there's ever an appropriate time to pass), but he was one of the few actors who never worked in a bad movie. He was never a "good actor in a bad movie", but he always seemed to have a knack for finding high quality scripts that brought out the best of his talents.
The Master is such a movie - there isn't a false moment or a bad performance within it. Although it received initial attention because of certain similarities to Scientology, this is a really unique piece focusing on a key relationship between two men - one seemingly lost, the other with a presumed path.
Joaquin Phoenix plays an ex-soldier who, after World War 2, attempts to deal with the trauma through drinking and carousing. But when he encounters the head of a growing philosophical moment/religion (portrayed by Phillip Seymour Hoffman), Phoenix's character finds himself growing closer with Hoffman and his family - a wife (Amy Adams) who has a key role, a son who admits that his father is "making it up as he goes along", and a daughter who strives to be the perfect member.
One of the key aspects of The Master is how it really focuses on the growing relationship between Hoffman & Phoenix....and it's a relationship that's complex and which is handled in a visually beautiful way. (In fact, a key scene involving music shows us a character's psychological state in a manner that speaks volumes without any dialogue). It's the kind of movie that works at a relatively slow, calm pace....and is best enjoyed on a Sunday afternoon.
Acting throughout the movie is top-notch, with Hoffman deserving specific kudos for not making his character either excessively buffoonish or Machiavellian - in short, he is a "regular man" who sees himself as perceiving a higher truth. Joaquin Phoenix provides a great counterbalance - his character, although lost and seeking, expresses that vulnerability and haunted quality without betraying a fundamental core. But it's Amy Adams who serves as one of the linchpins of the film - it's hard to describe her character without spoiling the movie; suffice it to say, she provides some subtle shadings to a character who could have been a single note. In fact, there isn't a bad performance throughout this movie - it's a great, breathtakingly gorgeous piece of filmmaking.
Although most filmmaking focuses on high-end, graphic novel-based action adventure, there is plenty of room for mature, adult drama. The Master received much high praise upon release. Watching it on DVD, the praise is well-deserved. This one's a must-see.