Paul Thomas Anderson is an artist with a dark palette. There Will Be Blood the movie with Daniel Day Lewis portraying an oil baron was about not just one sinister businessman who manipulates unknowing people into selling their land cheap. It was about the menace of unbridled capitalism. Lewis embodied the rapacious nature of business without limits. Paul Dano played two men, complexly.
The Master centers on a relationship between a disturbed alcoholic veteran named Freddy and played by Joaquin Phoenix and a charismatic perhaps equally disturbed founder of a new spiritual movement played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. The audience sees things from Freddy’s point of view to the extent possible. It becomes a bit of a burden when he loses control and begins hitting people and things. However,the production is so brilliant, the photography so vivid, the acting so concentrated and consistent, that we go along. We think this is leading up to something besides the relationship between these two men. And then the movie ends, and you think what was it about really?
I think Anderson likes the subject of power. How it manifests itself in a million ways. Boogie Nights had the charismatic director (Burt Reynolds) and the clueless young man (Mark Wahlberg) with the big dick. Julianne Moore hovered nearby a safe motherly figure who tempered the beastly powerful male.
IN Magnolia, Jason Robards is dying but exerting his influence on his dickhead son played brilliantly by Tom Cruise. PS Hoffman is a kind gentle nurse attending to everyone’s needs at his own expense.
There has to be a megalomaniac in his films.
There has to be great tension from beginning to end.
Laughing is all right, but rare.
But after you’ve left the theater, images and scenes of rare power (there it is again, that word) stay with you. The beauty of the sea foaming in trails behind a boat. The squirrelly way that Phoenix collects ingredients for his homemade toxic booze. From the middle distance, people on a boat moored dancing inside. Sunrise over the Golden Gate Bridge. The way Phoenix holds his arms akimbo, his hands holding his back as if holding himself up. His hunched walk, all turned in on himself.