The films most tense and outstanding scene involves Quell and Dodd sitting across a table, as Dodd administers Quells processing. As Dodd fires off probing personal questions, Quell unblinkingly stares back at Dodd, answering each one.
Dodd has a particular taste for Quells ability to distill liquor from just about anything, ranging from paint thinner to torpedo fuel on a Navy vessel and some substance from a medicine cabinet.
The films most engaging aspect is the nature of Dodd and Quell and how they interact. Phoenix displays Quell with a stooped posture, a constant sneer of the upper lip and squinted eyes. Hoffman portrays Dodd with a bright yet stern face and an inviting personality that attracts others to his Cause.
While giving a speech early in the film, Dodd speaks of lassoing and ensnaring a fierce dragon that he teaches to stay on command but then must teach to roll over and play dead. Quell is Dodds fierce dragon that he must ensnare, teach and ultimately cure of his animal nature. The film portrays the process in a plot that never really hints at where these two will end up.
Once Quell stays at Dodds side and at times, violently lashes out at those who opposed his Masters beliefs, Dodd soon realizes he must use Quell as a tool to teach his followers. But whether he is successful is debatable. Of course, the metaphor of Dodd commanding the dragon is potent, in the films third act it becomes an afterthought.
What attracted the two opposites to one another is unclear, although at times I felt it could have been homoeroticism, but I cant be sure of that conclusion either.
The film drifts along, churning like the ships wake that is a recurring image and a beautiful one at that. Quell is aimless and apathetic, unable to fit in anywhere, while Dodd continues to command his followers even when holes in his writings are exposed.
Anderson should be commended for his outstanding direction and the photography is nothing short of spectacular. But unfortunately, his writing this time leaves something to be desired. Unlike his last outing, 2007s There Will Be Blood, Anderson simply lets the story drift into the distance, seemingly, never-ending.
I keep coming back to the image of the ships wake, and thinking how Dodd cuts through life with clear direction while Quell lies on the ships deck in a drunken stupor.
Like Dodds Cause, the beliefs and message of The Master are a mystery but eloquently conveyed, even if the words lead you to no real answers, but maybe thats the point.
When Dodd defends his beliefs by speaking of fighting a battle trillions of years oldyes, trillions, with a T, he firmly stands on that belief, but like his detractor, youre left clueless about what it all actually means.
The Master is rated R and is playing in limited theaters with a runtime of 2 hours 27 minutes.
Staff Writer Patrick Hall may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org