Hooch & Hokum

‘The Master’

In one respect, Paul Thomas Anderson stands apart from even the best of living American directors: he is both a fabricator of spectacle and a shrewd psychologist. Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese achieve all sorts of pyrotechnics but rarely employ them to sound the depths of their characters. Though Terrence Malick floods the screen with startling imagery, he has lately seemed more interested in the destiny of all humankind than in individual souls. But Anderson comes across as an astonishing cinematic hybrid. Like David Lean, he surrounds his characters with landscapes and sights that need the horizontal sweep of 65mm photography. But like Robert Bresson or Carl Dreyer, he scours faces and gestures in search of the tumult within people, never arriving at any pat conclusions. The search terminates in mystery.

The Master is Anderson’s sixth feature. If it’s not quite at the level of his last and best film, There Will Be Blood, it’s at least as good as his first two, Hard Eight and Boogie Nights—and far superior to his interesting misfires, Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love....

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.