Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Masterful acting but so-so story

While critics are stumbling all over themselves praising Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, which just opened in Detroit (at the Main Art and other Detroit theatres, and opening Friday at Devonshire Windsor), my comments are not quite as over the top. Sure, it’s a good enough film. It’s well directed, has a decent script, and has some great 1940s and 50s period scenes, the best being the vintage department store near the beginning of the movie. And, no question, Joaquin Phoenix is great. From start to finish, his performance as the character Freddie Quell, a World War II navy veteran suffering from what today we’d call post-traumatic stress disorder, is fully engaged and in many ways searing. It’s got Oscar Best Actor written all over it.....Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd, a kind of religious cult guru (though Anderson says there’s no relation to Scientology founder Ron L. Hubbard – no, not much!) is also very good, as he is in every film. Amy Adams, as his wife Peggy, is fine. And Laura Dern as cult adherent Helen Sullivan, is, as well, etc. etc.....But critics are raving about this movie, thinking it’s the best thing since sliced bread, at least in terms of what’s come out in the past several months. The story’s okay. But what’s the point of it? Why should the movie going audience be interested in this – i.e., the founding of some cult? Why couldn’t the movie have been about a subject that had more appeal? One woman in the audience scowled afterwards at friends, “I’m choosing the movie next time!” and I heard other grumblings.....You know, sometimes you wish for an old fashioned plot so that good actors’ acting wouldn’t be so obscured. And that’s the way I feel about this film. Hell, even a basic war story, or detective plot, would have been more interesting.....In The Master, what we have is a film that shows off one – and possibly two – great acting talents. But we could have got that by, I suppose, watching them sit on chairs and emote their lines on an empty stage.  

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