Saturday, May 18, 2024

“The Master” Opens to Rave Reviews And a Lot of Curiosity


Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” opens today in five theaters, and expands next week and the week after. It’s gotten rave reviews just about everywhere and rates an 86% on Here’s my review from August 30th: I’ve seen “The Master” twice; that’s like having a major gut busting Thanksgiving dinner twice, with relatives who are alternately brilliant and crazy, in a spectacular dining room.

There’s no question that “The Master” will be a Best Picture nominee, with nominations for Director, Actor, Supporting Actor and Actress, Score and technical awards including cinematography. But we’re a little early for all that. Right now, it’s time just to enjoy this film. Anderson probably has a lot of influences, but the one that always stands out is Robert Altman. “The Master” is rooted in a film like “Three Women,” just “Magnolia” echoed “Short Cuts,” “Nashville,” and “Brewster McCloud.” That’s okay, it’s just fine. Anderson is channeling a lot of great stuff to make his movies. Altman should ben smiling in heaven.

Back in 1977, I used to take people to see “Three Women” and it left them confounded but moved. That’s “The Master.” You almost have to see it twice to get everything that’s going on. Joaquin Phoenix pulverizes a toilet in jail cell. If you could rewind in the theater you’d watch the whole jail cell scene again. It’s quite amazing. No one knew he was going to do that. Or that it was possible. Phoenix’s Freddie Quell cannot be “quelled.” That’s the whole point of his name.

Philip Seymour Hoffman already has an Oscar, and should have received a Tony this year for “Death of a Salesman.” Watch him in anything–try “The Savages.” He is the Jason Robards of this generation. He never hits the wrong note. PSH could have made Lancaster Dodd a cliche, a megalomaniac twirling a mustache.

Instead, Dodd is far less sinister and more likeable than L. Ron Hubbard ever was. He’s almost dashing. He’s a hedonist who’s “making up” his religion while he embraces life. Watch his scene toward the end with Laura Dern when she questions changes in The Cause. At first I thought he was angry because he was defensive. But no, I think he’s pissed that Dern’s benefactress doesn’t get it–it doesn’t matter that Dodd is contradicting himself. Go back and enjoy the party, he’s saying when he snaps at her.

Go, enjoy this party. It’s completely wild.


Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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