The Master is competently made and beautifully acted, but there's a larger sense that the parts do not add up to a whole.
Anyone who says that the film needs to be seen multiple times is harboring a deep and scary feeling that they didn't "get" the film, yet somehow they hope that upon subsequent viewings, the secrets will be revealed to them.
Unfortunately, this is simply not the case.
There's nothing to "get." The film lacks the narrative cohesion and tension of PTA's greater works, and this is disappointing. Anderson has always had a knack for making the convoluted approachable, and this inability to fashion a greater whole out of such stunning parts is disheartening.
His themes are surface-level and threadbare. His revelations about humanity and mental illness are, at worst, trite, and at best simplistic. However, the film is beautifully shot, and its actors elevate the lack of material and turn in Oscar-caliber performances (especially Joaquin Phoenix). And, for the first hour or so, the film hums along on its own inertia and intrigue, only to plummet off of the narrative cliff around the hour-twenty mark.
Imagine what this film could have been with more fire in its belly—more resolve in its ideals, more content in its screenplay and more...well, direction in its direction.
Chalk this one up as a beautifully hypnotic misfire from one of American cinema's most talented artists.
UA DeVargas 6, R, 137 min.