The Master – Why It’s Not As Good As Everyone Says

There’s always a festival/ critical darling director, whose movies are not quite as engaging, provocative, or powerful as people say they are.  A few directors come to mind, but let’s look at Paul Thomas Anderson.  I have a love hate relationship with this guy.  He’s a fantastic director, most if not all of his movies have gotten nominated for oscars, and he gets amazing performances out of his actors, also adding a surreal, but gloomy aesthetic to whatever he’s making.

He’s not a very good writer , I’m afraid.  His scripts have good dialogue , but the character arcs don’t go anywhere, the pacing is meandering, and there’s no real story or plot.  I guess you could consider them character pieces, but the characters don’t really change or have any definable qualities.  What’s more he does the thing that pisses me off with these directors is that you can’t enjoy the ending unless you understand the overlying theme in the movie.  The theme of your movie is supposed to be layered over top your story, it shouldn’t dictate where your story is going.  Black Swan is about DoppleGanger’s, Performance Anxiety, and Insantiy, but without realizing that I can still understand the ending and go back and catch that later.

It’s another case of I can’t quite say it’s overrated, nobodies talking about the script, it’s not quite as long as his other movies, and My God the acting paired with his direction is incredible, but it’s still just a bit off from being something I would return to consistently just for the acting.

Pacing

I’m going to try to not turn this into A Paul Thomas Anderson hate train, because I really respect the guy, he’s a fantastic film maker.  But all of his movies have the problem of poor pacing. They’re unnecessarily slow, and scenes go on for too long.  Sometimes that’s a good thing, adding to the uncomfortability he gets across with his camera work, but most of the time it leads to me being bored.  Even his best movies have a lag so bad , I consider changing it to something else, which once again probably reflects on the script.

Too Long

This is of course subjective, but there are some movies that are character pieces that don’t have a whole lot of story.  Personally I tend to stay away from them, because they’re usually one of these movies that’s the director patting himself on the back for his cinematography instead of spending time developing characters.  But it can work.  The Wrestler doesn’t have a whole lot of story.  The issue with making a movie this long with no story is that it feels like a waste of time.  Had this been an hour and a half character study and test of patience, it’d be tighter, and not only keep everything it was going to say, but be forced to get the point across more deliberate.  There are good movies that just bullshit for an hour.  And while I acknowledge, a lot of stuff in the middle of this movie works really well, about half of it boring as shit.  Once again subjective, but some people tend to agree.

Characters

In every category every year there’s a nomination, that is only given as a high five to the actor and the movie, that has absolutely no chance of winning.  Not to say they haven’t earned it, but there’s no way it’ll win.  This year we have Amy Adams in The Master. Now I’m tempted to say Amy Adams gives a great performance, but really I don’t remember her doing much in the film.  And further more, I don’t get a feel for her character.  I couldn’t give you one character trait and describe her.  Seymour Hoffman’s character gets a little more.. character i guess, but that’s only because he’s a metaphor for a real life human being, but Adams isn’t given anything to do, and doesn’t have an arc.  Once again Jacquion Pheonix is the only one who really delivers because he’s given more to do.  He’s an alcoholic insane guy, whose as aimless as the plot is.  Not to take away from the lovely Amy Adams, god knows she’s earned the ability to just get the obligatory nomination, but I really do think there are more deserving performances.

Stop worrying about Themes and focus on story

My favorite Paul Thomas Anderson movie is probably There Will Be Blood.  It does have a lot of meandering, but it actually manages to tell a real story, instead of banging over the overlying metaphor that only him , and critics seem to understand.

The Master is basically a metaphor for Scientology and other Cults.  It’s also the ClockWork Orange concept of telling a man to be civil doesn’t work, they will always be savages.  Niether one of these really adds to the story.  This movie feels like it had no direction.  Every scene was thought up from the scene before, almost as if Anderson got his favorite actors, and then said let’s make a movie, and got on the set, and improvised.

Ambiquity 

Here’s my big problem with these directors and critics.  Whenever they see a movie they have already made up in their mind they’re going to like it regardless of the actual quality.  This is the most blatant case of last year.  Now this is far from a bad movie, and I wouldn’t give it necessarily a glowing review, but to praise this movie and ignore the major flaws baffle me.

I think when a movie is too open ended when does it stop being good and when does it become flaky, unfocused, or pretentious.  My big problem with Prometheus is that nothing is set in stone, there’s no answer to anything.  Here it’s even  more apparent.  None of the characters have motivations, any constistent flaws, there’s no plot and there’s no sub plot.  Nothing has any weight.  I read an interview where he said that Anderson had no where to take the story before and no direction and eventually used stories from a navy buddy of his and unused parts from previous movies, which leads me to believe he just patched this together from separate ideas instead of one cohesive place of inspiration.

There’s a scene where Seymour Hoffman’s character makes Pheonix’s character do something repeatedly as it tests his patience.  I’m sure somebody who liked this movie would say it’s a metaphor for the audience therefore making excuses, but no then there would’ve been more of that in the movie.  There’s nothing for me to grasp onto so at the end of the 2 hours , I just felt empty like it wasted my time.  Flight was 2 and a half hours, and it meandered a little, but overall it had a character arc, and sub plots.  Denzel’s character is different from when he started the movie until when it ended.  Can’t say the same about the characters here, which overall means there’s a lack of character development.  Pheonix is honestly brilliant here.  His voice, mannerisms, and unpredictability really make him fascinating to watch, it’s too bad his character doesn’t progress or do anything definable enough to call it a good performance.

I plan on revisiting this movie again, hopefully It’ll grow on me like a lot of these do. Definetly worth seeing and definitely a Rental, which is sad.  This movie speaks to me, it’s an allegory for religion it’s got 3 Oscar Caliber actors acting their asses off, and some of the best direction, i’ve seen all year, so sad that Anderson couldn’t step out of his own way and deliver a well balanced movie experience.

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