Friday, October 19, 2012
Have you ever seen the movie Hard Eight?
It wasn't an especially popular or ambitious movie, and it didn't get much attention. It's about a man who befriends a drifter from Las Vegas and teaches him how to make a living off the casinos. It's one of Gwenyth Paltrow's first movies (this was 1996) and stars Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly and Samuel L. Jackson.
Hard Eight was written and directed by P.T. Anderson, and I decided that I would make a point of following his career. Which I did: next came Boogie Nights (awesome), then Magnolia (solid, for the most part), Punch-Drunk Love (meh) and There Will Be Blood (impressive, but pretentious).
In other words, my love affair with Anderson was a relationship of diminishing returns.
Yet somehow I knew that his new movie The Master would kick my ass. Maybe it was the religion angle (always a good way to sell me), and maybe it was just cuz I love the cast.
Anyways, I took Darby to see it, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it for weeks. I don't usually write movie reviews on this blog (the world has enough of those) but I decided I had to ramble about this. So oblige me. (Or don't).
First: Jaoquin Phoenix looks profoundly uncomfortable throughout this entire movie.
There isn't a moment when his face isn't twisted into a sneer, or a forced smile, or a vaguely tortured expression. He contorts his body until his elbows stick out at strange angles. He looks emaciated, fucked up and completely lost.
(He also bears a striking resemblance to Jack Keroauc. Was this on purpose?)
Obviously Phoenix's character Freddie Quell is suffering from some pretty vicious PTSD, which is why he spends most of the movie draining flasks of homemade hooch comprised of rubbing alcohol, torpedo fuel and rat poison.
I mean, it literally kills some poor old Mexican dude who was looking for a drink.
I've been annoyed with Phoenix ever since I'm Still Here, which was an infuriatingly pointless stunt that made him look like a A-1 Asshole. But he couldn't have picked a better way to redeem himself. He's vote my vote for Best Actor this year.
And I haven't even mentioned even Hoffman yet.
See, I was kind of hoping this movie would be an expose on Scientology, and his character Lancaster Dodd would come across as a scathing indictment of L. Ron Hubbard. The similarities are there (seriously, you can't miss them) but the fact that he's this charismatic, batshit crazy cult leader doesn't even feel relevant.
Because really this movie is a bro-mance. Except not in a lame frat-boy kind of way. We're talking about a deep, spiritual, inexplicable (and slightly sexual) connection between two hopelessly dysfunctional human beings.
And for me, here's the kicker line of the movie. Hoffman delivers it to Phoenix right before serenading him a capella. (How does Anderson get away with this stuff?)
And there it is. Like a punch in the stomach.
(If you haven't seen the movie, you'll have to take my word for it.)
For anyone who's been disillusioned by organized religion, or has ever been captivated by some sort of spiritual leader, I promise this movie will strike a nerve with you.
I've more or less given up on movies in the past few years. I get far more excited about the new episodes of Boardwalk Empire and The Walking Dead than some two-hour spectacle where I have to drop ten bucks to meet characters I DON'T EVEN KNOW YET.
But The Master has redeemed my faith in the medium.
That is all.