(Editorial note): Months ago Nick and I were in an email exchange about whether or not we wanted a FIVE STAR FILM entry for The Master. At the time I resisted, I thought that it need more time and that the equal highest rating on GwP since our inception was good enough. But As it's our 1st birthday, today the 25.05.2013, it seemed extremely fitting that we grace the honour of the final FIVE STAR FILM of year one to the winner of the Honorary Dr. Ian Sussman Film Awards - a.k.a The Graffiti With Punctuation Oscars. So without further ado... It’s only a few months old but does that still make it too early to be considered an entry into the five star film series? I concede I’m as big a Paul Thomas Anderson fan as you can get, however I take a five-star nod very seriously. My first viewing of the film agreed with these aforementioned conversations but I couldn’t shift the feeling it wasn’t the film that was missing something – rather, I was.
I hope this inspires all of you who feel this way to revisit it on home disc in the coming months.
1. Joaquin Phoenix
I’ll skip all the rising-from-the-ashes puns and just say “Holy fucking shit.” The last time we saw Phoenix he was deliberately sabotaging his career for the experimental (yet wholly deliberate) piece I’m Still Here and pissing everyone off in Hollywood. It’s easy to say in reflection but honestly, only a fool would write him off. Before this, he was known for the brilliant turn as Johnny Cash a few years earlier and now it’s all about Freddy Quell, the veteran in search of a life. It’s one of those performances that people will talk about for decades to come and being that he didn’t win an Oscar, I’ve come to the conclusion everything is a lie. Excuse me while I reset my tinfoil hat.
2. Philip Seymour Hoffman
In the same league as Nicholson, Brando, Pacino et al, the only reason he’s not the sole focus of all the conversations is because it’s now expected of him. One of the finest actors of this generation, Hoffman bounces off Phoenix like two rabid dogs in a backyard fight, neither willing to back down to the other. As Lancaster Dodd he is the father figure that Quell is possibly after. There’s a certain relationship between the two men that extends beyond the professional and it’s of a far greater depth and power than essentially every other film last year. When he sings Slow Boat to China to a flattered Quell at the end, it’s a moment that no one else could have delivered without sheer embarrassment.
3. Amy Adams
To be fair I did write her off initially – her role in the film seemed so tiny and limited – that when her name kept popping up for award nominations I was asking “why?” Through repeated viewings I’ve realised what a stupid question this is to ask as she’s the reason this thought crosses our minds – who is the Master? Her steadfastness in controlling Lancaster as he slips between the shaky fingers of Quell defines powerful, all communicated via a hand job over the bathroom sink.
4. Cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr.
A newcomer to Anderson’s world, Malaimare Jr. creates such a tight-knit world it is borderline claustrophobic. Reproduced in 70mm (for aesthetic reasons beyond anything else) most scenes are heavy close-ups of the leads. Gone are the fancy landscape shots that surround most films shot in this nature (these days at least, considering everything else is on digital). This is an ugly film. It’s not meant to swamp you in with postcard frames. Watching it feels like you’re reading a book – and with every re-watch, more and more is uncovered each time. Never before has facial tics (Phoenix) been such a fascinating, non-kitschy character feature.
Get out from the gutter. Anderson had serious balls to make a film of this nature that didn’t rely on hooks every ten pages of script. All he seemed to rely on (or know to succeed) was the chemistry between the two leads. And like a man with great foresight, everything else would fall into place from there. There’s nothing outstanding on the screen – it all comes down to a pale blue – and there is little of a narrative to speak of. What there is however, in huge dollops, is one of the most fascinating portrayals of a male/male relationship that doesn’t extend towards sexual flirtation. (Physically speaking.)
On a final note – the ending is just as strong as “I’m finished.” or “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown” or a young man picking up someone else’s bride and hoping onto a bus. Quell lies still with the sand-woman, completely comfortable with himself and doesn’t say a word. Here is where he is most content with himself and we finally understand why he is who he is.
Nicholas Brodie - follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire