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Humanity’s Dark Side


Great performances but not enough heart 
in ‘The Master’ and ‘Looper’

By Lori Hoffman

Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 2 | Posted Sep. 26, 2012

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The Master.

The Master, the latest film from Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood), might get some Oscar consideration for stars Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, but it lacks an emotional connection. We are kept at arm’s length by this tale about a cult leader in the 1950s that may or may not be based on the birth of Scientology.


The Master is a beautifully crafted and photographed period piece, set in the early 1950s, that never gives us a way in to connect with the characters. Hoffman, as the titled character Lancaster Dodd, is a bullshit artist whose raging ego — and, I suspect, his desire to get laid — has led him to his career path of creating a new religion. He is so full of himself he even believes his bunk, and is therefore shocked when the occasional police officer or reporter calls him a fraud.


One of Dodd’s most devoted followers is Freddie Quell (Phoenix), whose war experience in the Navy has left him damaged and searching for direction. He is a perfect prey for Dodd’s spellbinding crap. The fact that Quell is dangerous, with serious anger-management issues, makes him a nice ally to have when a non-believer makes the mistake of making sense in his argument that Dodd is little more than a cult leader and charlatan.


The performances by Hoffman and Phoenix are compelling, but the storyline surrounding their father-son dynamic is not. That they can still create sparks in a vacuum is impressive, but writer-director Anderson has done little to give us an epic overview that puts this relationship in the context of a bigger picture.


Beyond the performances and the gorgeous 70mm cinematography The Master feels like something major is missing in the storytelling. 


Self-Loathing in ‘Looper’


As a big fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Rian Johnson (I loved their collaboration, Brick), I was prepared to love Looper — but I was instead disappointed by it. The sci-fi flick also stars Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt, and mashes together elements from the likable Jean-Claude Van Damme B-movie, Timecop, and the Brian DePalma telepathic horror flick The Fury. Looper has a jazzy, exciting premise. In a world where the middle class is gone, being a Looper, a hired killer who just has to kill tied-up, helpless victims zapped back in time from an even more terrible future, is a sweet gig. You make lots of money and can enjoy drug-fueled carnal delights while avoiding the life of those barely surviving in the streets. Still it comes at a price — you know that eventually you have to “close the loop” and kill your future self. When that moment arrives and Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is expected to kill his older self (Bruce Willis), he hesitates and is on the lam for breaking the rules. The Fury element arrives when the movie sags terribly in the middle as Young Joe is hiding out in a farm with a woman (Blunt) and her son, who might grow up to be the monster dictator who controls the future world “Old Joe” left. While Gordon-Levitt and Willis have a blast with the space-time issues and some funny dialogue, the movie loses steam after a solid start and just keeps falling apart as it races to a less than satisfying conclusion. 


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1. Anonymous said... on Oct 12, 2012 at 01:10PM

“Couldn't agree more that the movie "sagged terribly" in the middle. Very inconsistent pace and pretty disappointing.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Oct 25, 2012 at 06:25PM

“Dear Ms. Hoffman--- I agree with your notes on "The Master." I enjoyed your use of the term "bullshit artist." It was a favorite term of my late father. Thanks for using it. Dad had a bit of Freddie in him, too.”

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