Last year, I gave Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘The Master’ an ecstatic review, calling it an instant classic and an important work of art. While it received similar acclaim from all over the world, it also proved to be a divisive film, with many audiences finding it a difficult movie to connect with. It seems ‘The Master’ was one of those films you either loved or loathed, and so it was with great curiosity that I approached its Blu-Ray release, and the chance to reassess my feelings on the film. Would I find it as easy to love the second time?
There’s no denying that ‘The Master’ is one of Anderson’s least accessible films. Essentially a romance of spirits between the cripplingly lost and destructive ex-Marine Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) and charismatic cult leader Lancaster Dodds (Philip Seymour Hoffman), set in the post-war optimism of the 1950s, it's a film where very little actually happens, certainly compared to the biblical ferocity of ‘There Will Be Blood’ (2008) or the stirring spectacle of ‘Boogie Nights’ (1997). What it offers, however, is another example of what Anderson does better than most other directors - free from the complexities of narrative, ‘The Master’ soars as a complex and detailed character study about two men drawn to each other, colliding with subtle but devastating violence. Freddie and Lancaster are two sides of the same coin, one driven by his intellect, the other by pure animal instinct. Rather than having to barrel along with a story, we're given the opportunity to assess and navigate these characters and their complex relationships.
Strangely, it might be the most romantic film of Anderson’s career, and its cumulative effect is surprisingly moving, its final scenes sneaking up on you with their raw, undiluted sadness. The film itself is craftsmanship of the highest order from every department, from the gorgeous cinematography to the stunning production design to the beguiling and hypnotic score. Phoenix and Hoffman each give one of their finest performances, as does Amy Adams as Dodds’ fiercely devoted wife Peggy. All three received Oscar nominations for their performances, and rightly so, collectively demonstrating what great acting really is. Thankfully, though, ‘The Master’ ends up being more than just a demonstration of skill, and all these artists both on and off-screen strike the perfect balance needed to make the film as emotionally stirring as it is.
In many ways, ‘The Master’ is even more fascinating and hypnotic an experience the second time round. With an understanding now of the unusual tone of the film, there is more space to marvel at the myriad of exquisite details and comprehend the electricity between these two men, both seeking some kind of established place in their worlds. It's a puzzle that doesn’t reveal its secrets easily, but still a magnificent puzzle nonetheless, and thankfully, still as breathtaking as I had found it last year. Paul Thomas Anderson has given us another modern American classic.
PICTURE & SOUND
Anderson and cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jnr chose to shoot ‘The Master’ in the 65mm format, the most detailed and textured film format in existence. Once a standard for big budget epics in the 50s and 60s, the format hadn’t be used for feature films in nearly 20 years, giving ‘The Master’ a tremendously cinematic, organic visual quality. For this Blu-ray release, Roadshow has retained that level of clarity and texture with a stunning transfer, preserving its 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The movie has the beautifully faded, aged quality that only film stock offers, and even in high definition, that quality is still as striking and vibrant. The DTS-HD 5.1 track is also terrific, especially in its recreation of the tone of Jonny Greenwood’s intoxicating score, and the equally detailed sonic world of the film. The disc also features an Audio Descriptive track and English subtitles.
‘The Master’ is even more fascinating and hypnotic an experience the second time round.
Similar to ‘There Will Be Blood’, Anderson hasn’t offered anything in the way of commentary or extensive making-of features on ‘The Master’. What the disc does offer, however, is a surprisingly extensive amount of extra footage from the film, albeit in an unusual fashion. ‘Back Beyond’ is a 20-minute short film constructed from deleted footage, along with unused sections of Greenwood’s score. Beautifully edited together, the footage expands on the hypnotic mystery of the film, as well as offering fresh provocations about Quell and Dodds. Also included are nine teasers and trailers, unusually essential viewing in that even more deleted footage, dialogue and music was used in making them, and at 17 minutes in total, almost act as another short film in themselves. Unfortunately, unlike the U.S. release, we don’t have the ‘Unguided Message’ featurette of raw behind-the-scenes footage or John Huston’s 1946 documentary ‘Let There Be Light’, about WWII veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and a strong influence on Anderson in conceiving the film. The absence of the documentary in particular is an unfortunate one for this Australian release.
Thanks to Roadshow Entertainment, we have five copies of 'The Master' to give away on Blu-Ray. Click here to find out how to enter the draw to win a copy of this exceptional film.