Movie Reviews: The Master

The Master ★★★★
Breaking Dawn — Part 2 ★★★
Amour ★★★★
Mental ★★

Paul Thomas Anderson is regarded as one of contemporary filmmaking’s very few genuine auteurs, with Boogie Nights (1997), Magnolia (1999), Punch Drunk Love (2002) and There Will Be Blood (2007) all critically acclaimed as masterpieces. The Master (16s) stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd, a charismatic expounder of a quasi-scientific philosophy called ‘the Cause’ who becomes fascinated with Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), an emotionally crippled veteran of WWII suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Taking on Quell as his ‘guinea pig and protégé’, Dodd aims to raise Freddie’s consciousness via an indoctrination programme called ‘processing’. What follows is an intriguing clash of wills, as the irresistible force of the Master’s subtle intelligence meets the immovable object of Freddie’s all-too-human instincts. The meandering story explores the fallacy of any man attempting to sculpt another in his own image and the simultaneous allure and danger of submitting to a religious cult, although in making the Master such a ridiculous figure - Dodd propounds fantastical theories about time travel and previous lives, and claims he can cure leukaemia - Anderson undercuts the potential power of his narrative. Perhaps the point is that desperate people will believe in any old nonsense if they believe it will rescue them from their despair, and certainly Hoffman’s performance is powerful enough to persuade us that he could very easily lead a cult. As rare as it is to find two equally compelling performances sharing the same screen, Phoenix is at times mesmerising as the almost subhuman Freddie, a shambling beast of a man who is heartbreaking in his willingness, and his inability, to believe in Dodd. Beautifully shot, immaculately detailed and adorned with some excellent support performances (in particular Amy Adams, playing Dodd’s dead-eyed wife and acolyte), The Master is a beguiling film.

Based on the novels by Stephanie Meyer, Twilight has dominated the box office since it debuted in 2008, writes Daniel Anderson. Five films later, it’s time for the finale of the multi-billion dollar franchise. Once more directed by Oscar-winner Bill Condon, Breaking Dawn - Part 2 (12A) is the conclusion to the supernatural story, with the new family of Bella (Kristen Stewart), Edward (Robert Pattinson) and their half human child Renesmee threatened by the vampire ruling class. The path towards the endgame is paved with more character and humour than ever before, while training montages for Bella’s new powers help to keep things pacy, as does a globe-trotting quest for allies. It’s the most competent film in the saga by far, with a real attempt to entertain as well as an eventful plot, something which the other entries failed to deliver. But the missteps remain plentiful.

Written and directed by Michael Haneke (Funny Games, The White Ribbon),

Amour (12A) stars Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emanuelle Riva as an aging couple, the former musicians Georges and Anne, whose idyllic Parisian life is shattered when Anne suffers a stroke which leaves her paralysed on one side. Haneke’s camera is merciless in documenting the indignities of illness, its gaze crawling across the pair like that of a tender necrophiliac as Haneke employs exquisitely long takes and static camera angles. Love in this context is neither pretty nor redemptive, but strong, unsentimental performances from Trintignant and Riva render this a heartbreakingly poignant tale.

Mental (15A) stars Toni Collette as a psychological unbalanced woman who takes on the job of raising a group of girls when their own mother is sent away for a ‘rest’. An uneasy blend of slapstick and raucous Australian humour teamed with an undercurrent of genuine concern for those considered mentally unfit by society, writer-director PJ Hogan’s movie benefits from a hugely enjoyable performance from Collette, but overall this is an abrasive experience in which the contrived wackiness of the storyline gradually erodes the poignancy of the characters’ plight.

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