Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master

I saw Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film The Master last night, and while I’m still processing it, here are a few initial observations and reactions:

It is not as good as Boogie Nights, which has the memorable characters of The Master while also having a more engaging plot, but there is more nudity.

It might be as good as Magnolia, and is definitely better than Punch Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood.

Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams all give outstanding performances. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a physical performance better than Phoenix’s in that his character is always a searing presence on the screen, and how his body (and especially his face) moves is more memorable and important than what he says. It is rare for me to feel that Hoffman gets overshadowed because he is my favorite actor, but in this film, he does. With that said, if Hoffman ever starts a cult, I will be powerless to resist joining. I used to think of Adams as Jim’s annoying girlfriend on the first season of The Office, but now I will think of her performance here.  The quiet violence of her character (which erupts most memorably in a scene where she gives Hoffman a handjob after warning him never to let her find out that he is having sex with other women) is a nice contrast to the bravado of the men’s. The three performances are so good that they almost act as a detriment to the film itself, as the whole gets overshadowed by its parts.

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