The Master: Hard to Watch

I have a love-hate relationship with Paul Thomas Anderson. Mostly hate.

But let’s start with the love, shall we? “Boogie Nights,” my first introduction to him, was brilliant. I know some of the characters and stories from around these times, and the movie was meticulous and wonderful to watch. Great stuff.

His next, “Magnolia,” did have a pretty unforgettable performance by Tom Cruise, but was mostly a “WTF Was That?” kind of head-scratcher. (Cue raining frogs…)

“Punch Drunk Love” was so horrendously awful, if I’d thought to bring rotten tomatoes with me, I surely WOULD have thrown them at the screen. Instead, I just walked out. Hate doesn’t even begin to encompass how I feel about that movie. I still start seething when anyone even says those three words.

It is thus with trepidation that I approached “There Will Be Blood.” I do love Daniel Day-Lewis, so I did see it. Even sat all the way through to the end, but mostly hated it.

I’m realizing now why I hated these shows so much, as I scan IMDB for credits. All of these movies were not only directed by him, but written by him also. Not that people CAN’T both write and direct a movie. I just think HE can’t.

He’s one of those people who is so enamoured with the situations he’s setting up that he just thinks all is grand, while you’re sitting there wondering why the hell you are watching it. This is true, in greater or lesser degrees for me, in all his movies.

This latest one, I just realized has pretty much the same character as the oilman in “There Will Be Blood.” Except the guy in this one is (supposedly) the founder of Scientology. Starts out nice, becomes (through success) a crazed, greedy ego maniac. All along the way he is a charlatan.

So let’s just leave it at that. I pretty much hate Paul Thomas Anderson the writer. The director has some promise, if only he got another screenwriter.

However, all that being said, the actors he gets to work for him do amazing things.

In fact, the only reason to sit through this treacle is to watch some master craftsmen of acting do their thing.

Joaquin Phoenix, to my knowledge, has never turned in a better performance. He’s off the hinges and crazy. Sex-addicted, alcohol-addicted lunatic. One who barely fits into the confines of society. A psychopath.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is incapable of a bad performance, plays the “Scientology” leader. Charismatic and charming to his accolytes, but with a mean temper when crossed. Hoffman makes many subtle changes in character believable and stunning to watch.

Amy Adams, who just continues to be a revelation, sparkles as Hoffman’s wife. Laura Dern has a brief, but memorable, cameo.

As in “There Will Be Blood,” there are images in this movie that will be disturbing and hard to erase from one’s memory. But unlike “There Will Be Blood,”  I think this one is worth sitting through, just to see these actors work their magic.



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