Review Roundup - Master of Puppets


Recently I got around to seeing Paul Thomas Anderson's western epic come oil drama There Will Be Blood. It was a real treat; an impressive piece of work all round, full of historical details and amazing photography. It was slow burning (with of course some bursts of fire from the characters and their drilling operation itself) but at the same time it was incredibly engrossing;  the soundtrack was strange and sinister, and best of all the human drama was extremely intense. A dark and blackly humorous look at ambition and greed but at the same time simply a well crafted story. So looking at The Master and seeing many similarities, I have to report that unfortunately it's a let down. After coming to anticipate something more it wasn't engaging in the same way. But comparing the two the pieces all seem to be here. What is it that creates such a lack of satisfaction?

This is certainly another acting master class, and again it all looks and sounds amazing, but beyond the quality of the players and how it's all staged their journey is oddly inadequate in comparison. It never comes to any apparent conclusions about the nature of the subjects at hand, which is a shame since it has a number of fascinating ideas to explore. Is it a study of the weak under pressure or those who are easily led in tough times? Is it a look at ego and ambition? Is it a look at post Second World War culture clashes and the negative effects of fledgling pseudo sciences? All of these ideas are touched upon but in surface detail only and this lack of narrative focus undermines the experience. Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman) is a charismatic but twitchy writer and figurehead, who beams under flattery but crumbles and devolves into anger when questioned. This alone could have made for a great character study. In a darker turn Amy Adams plays his wife, perhaps the puppet master behind the scenes pushing him along and directing their followers, but their aims and ideals are vague and never explored. Is it a simple fraud case or are these real believers? The claims that Dodd is a nuclear physicist and his hypnosis methods could cure leukemia are very disturbing, but whether this is fantasy or actual faith isn't explained. The plot meanders and offers a lot of good character moments but never moves towards any real arcs or a solid outcome.

The story itself follows Joaquin Phoenix as Pacific War veteran Freddie as he comes across this nefarious couple and their group, The Cause. At the centre of the film it's an amazing creation, someone who is visibly broken by wartime experiences having fallen into alcoholism and can no longer function within normal social standards. Perhaps he never could as flashbacks suggest he didn't quite fit into military life. He's a twisted and slowly unraveling wreck of a man - but to what end? What he feels The Cause can offer him is never really explained and what he offers them in return besides a test subject for their persuasion techniques or the occasional hired help is unclear. There's certainly a friendship between him and Dodd, who perhaps means to exploit his weaknesses or is just interested in seeing his own less acceptable desires being expressed without inhibition. What exactly makes Freddie so actively violent towards the naysayers in the group or those speaking out against his new found club is not obvious since he never fully accepts their ideas. How he comes to a point that makes it acceptable to move on in his life is also unclear, though he has developed by the end in some ways. The cult itself moves from house hold meetings and court room scandal into book publishing and more worryingly school openings, yet it's uncertain if this is a real success for it's leaders and how these things are actually moving along, or if this is temporary and the damage they are doing through the "self help" being offered is going to come back and bite them later on. There are a lot of cryptic moments and unexplored ideas here. Whether this is worthy of further exploration or is just as vapid and hollow as the cult itself; that remains to be seen.



What happened Park Chan-Wook? From the teeth pulling nastiness of the Vengeance trilogy and the human drama of JSA, things seem to be going well. But for whatever reason things haven't quite panned out and much like Thirst, here there are plenty of wacky scenes but the real ideas are never developed into a story that works. This suffers more for it, and the gravity of a plot containing elements about psychological trauma and the treatment of mental illness should really have been dealt with in a manner which allows for some serious depth. Instead the tone doesn't ever work as the occasional somber moments collide with the more frequent comedy sequences. They showcase a lot of problem people but never explore their issues in a meaningful way, opting instead for crazy special effects and oddball humour rather than actual therapy. The abrupt ending just serves to amplify this feeling of confusion in what is a wasted opportunity overall.