Paul Thomas Anderson - The Master (2012), 3/10

I have perhaps never disagreed so vehemently with critics I respect than in the case of The Master, a film I found to be an exhaustingly contrived exercise and existing as a poorly assembled set of bombastic, overly ostentatious acting performances from Phoenix and Hoffman. A thinly veiled satire producing very little meaningful commentary regarding a topic with almost endless opportunity solidifies the film’s inconsequential pursuit. Freddie Quell is certainly a believably tortured character with an interesting progression but nothing is accomplished with his character apart from a painfully simple juxtaposition against Lancaster Dodd. The scenes that accomplish this task are jagged and slapped together like an ill-fitting puzzle with little grace, to the point where the film is entirely non-immersive and constantly begging the question, why was this film even made? The statements made here have been shouted for decades by better films and more creative depictions of life, even down to the direct subject matter at hand. The relationships are either tragically underdeveloped, taking a backseat to Quell and Dodd’s dynamic or, in the case of these two men, too simple to produce any substantial depth of meaning. Yes, Quell is subject to his animal instincts and base mode of being while Dodd is shackled by his own hubris, but this simultaneously intimate association and disunion is only mildly interesting before it is monotonously exercised for two hours of painfully shallow cinematography that leans so hard into its individual acting performances, it presents as a caricature of method. Exceptional acting, which this film is absolutely overflowing with from almost everyone involved but especially its three leads, must be supported with exceptional presentation and storytelling or the result is this brand of infuriatingly empty, inane film that is entirely ordinary and unremarkable. The absurd and laughable climax of this feeling of contrivance being Hoffman’s singing, closing out a pathetically unnatural script that feels like it could have been authored by artificial intelligence. This is now the new standard for cocky pretentiousness very thinly disguised as meaningful cultural analysis.