Tag Archives: Philip Seymour Hoffman

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part Two

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“I’ve been watching you, you’ve been watching me. And I’m afraid we’ve both been played for fools.”

Teen fiction trilogies; final films split into two parts; a star’s wasted talent; The Hunger Games ticks so many of my pet hate boxes that even if I was its target audience I would have absolutely no business sitting for 137 minutes to see the fourth part of this dystopian trilogy for kids. But there I was, having only recently watched Mockingjay Part One, surrounded by far too many people that are my age, all of us various degrees of curious as to how Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen was going to end her story.

Fresh off of an attempt on her life by fellow Games survivor Peeta, Everdeen’s love interest who’s been brainwashed by The Capitol and the people that rule the country from there, Katniss is still the poster girl for the country’s rebellion and has become the most important of commodities in the fight against corrupt President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Having cleared the way for an assault late in the last film, rebel President Coin (Julianne Moore), guided in part by former games maker Plutarch (the late, great, Philip Seymour Hoffman), has put in motion a plan to take the Capitol and the ruling presidency and bring a new time of peace to the country of Panem. Standing in her army’s way, however, is a city filled with lethal boobytraps and sadistic games that Snow has put in place to thin the ranks of the rebellion before they reach him.

Essentially on propaganda duty, Katniss is left at the back of the assault to be filmed across the battlegrounds in which the rebels are victorious, with her job being to inspire hope and a want to fight in the citizens of Panem while simultaneously instilling fear and doubt in their enemy through a steady stream of courageous looking vignettes to go with the wander through the maze of a city. Deciding to take it upon herself to be the tool of Snow’s destruction, Katniss fights through every inch of the ruling city to claim her target and finish the Hunger Games for good.

Including part one, Mockingjay is more than four hours long and for the most part, it is very well paced and almost perfectly formed. Part Two starts out relatively quickly after the slow-ish burn of Part One, not much time is wasted in getting to the action. As quickly as Katniss’ old squad leader Boggs is assigned as her lead guy again, her and her band of merry men are in the war ravaged city heading to Snow’s hideout and jumping into the maze of traps that await them. Each scene is filled with tension and shot in such a way as you feel you are in that ruined world with them; every moment you spend with Katniss has you wanting to take the next steps with her and push her to her goal. You are definitely rooting for this girl to get her job done and get back home.

But it feels too long. At two and a quarter hours, Mockingjay Part Two feels like a bit of a slog at times. It could have easily been shortened by half an hour and it falls victim to that most common of problems with films trying to do and say too much, it ends several times before it actually ends. Everything is tied up with a nice neat ribbon, but it could have been completely pulled from the film and it would have been much better. That’s my only real gripe though. The film, and the series, turned out to be pretty decent, not totally unwatchable fluff that, maybe, will pave the way for the teens it’s aimed at to look into other dystopian films and perhaps trip across greats like Battle Royale. That isn’t to say I’m going to run out and sit through the mountains of teen fiction guff that has been turned into into films for the undeveloped fools to digest, but I won’t run screaming from them just yet either.

Like Kristen Stewart before her, I still much prefer Jennifer Lawrence outside of the franchise that made her a household name, but i can’t fault her performance across the entire Hunger Games series and to see her develop from the girl who volunteered for the Games to the woman that spearheaded revolution is a pretty impressive thing to watch. But she’s only as good as the cast surrounding her and it’s a more than impressive roll call on that count. The previously mentioned Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore and Donald Sutherland are joined by the likes of Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson, a pair that kept me interested through the first instalment and are still excellent in the fourth with a few extras in the form of Daredevil’s Elden Henson and Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer to name just a couple that all make stand out performances.

Bottom line, I’m not the audience that The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part Two is chasing after, but it doesn’t stop the film from being just a little enjoyable. It’s a fitting conclusion to a series that has been consistently improving but at the same time, somehow, consistently average. Slightly overlong and a little predictable, but overall, I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I’d go so far to say as I walked out of the theatre mildly impressed with what I’d just seen and happy I’d stuck with the series to its final, cliched shot.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 has only one major flaw, and it’s right there in the title.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

mocking jay 3Do you think that The Wachowskis and Quentin Tarantino ever regret splitting up The Matrix 2 and Kill Bill respectively?  I mean, considering what it hath wrought on today’s blockbuster landscape where nothing ends anymore and everything is always building towards a thing that’s being held off until the next film.  Were their various artistic decisions, driven by their split films being stylistically and distinctly different from one another – Kill Bill Vol. 1 being an action packed Asian-influenced martial arts flick and Vol. 2 being a slow-moving character-driven Spaghetti Western, whilst The Matrix Reloaded was the openly philosophical and purposefully cock-teasing one and The Matrix Revolutions was the sh*t one – now solely reduced to green money-shaped lights in hungry movie executives’ eyes?

In this recent wave of films that abuse an audience’s patience in order to swindle them out of more of their hard-earned cash, only Harry Potter has truly gotten it right.  The Deathly Hallows films, overlong as they may be (which is a criticism you can apply to pretty much any Harry Potter film really), had two distinct parts.  Part 1 was the slow-moving character piece, where the growing distance between the core trio was finally addressed head-on and done in such a way that it essentially completed the majority of their character arcs in time for the final film; ending on a solemn, downbeat note that re-enforces stakes and provides a vital character beat to send viewers home with.  Part 2 is the glorious, excessive blow-out party celebrating the franchise’s existence that, quite honestly, it deserved and would have felt weird if it went out any other way.  There’s a clear distinction.

Most films nowadays that do The Split, however, don’t craft two distinct parts.  They don’t use this creative opportunity to tell a story that was simply too in-depth for a standard 2 hour 30 minute runtime, or to create two parts that stylistically and creatively do different things from one another.  They just occur to make some cold hard cash, and the films suffer majorly from the bloat and lack of any real satisfying closure at the end of Part 1.  Twilight did it.  The Hobbit did it.  Divergent is doing it – which amazes me as there was barely enough material in the first frickin’ film.  The Maze Runner is going to do it and you are deluding yourself if you believe otherwise.  And, now, The Hunger Games has done it.

Quite honestly, the Part 1 segment of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 title is the best and worst thing about the film.  See, I have been of the opinion that prior Hunger Games movies are always two-thirds of an outstanding movie, and one-third of a really good but relatively uninteresting movie.  That one-third, surprisingly, has always been the Games part.  They’re not bad, they’re just incredibly perfunctory and uninteresting compared to the non-Games stuff: the propaganda, the class warfare, the media satirising, the emotional state of Katniss who is one of the most dynamic and interesting lead characters I have seen in a franchise in a long while, oppressive governments… all that stuff, and The Games just got in the way of that.

Mockingjay, Part 1 dispenses with them entirely.  Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence) breaking of the 75th Hunger Games ended up being the spark that lit the powder-keg and now a full-on revolution has broken out in Panem.  The despotic head of The Capital, President Snow (Donald Sutherland), has razed her home, District 12, to the ground, its streets lined with the rotting skeletons of those caught in its bomb blasts, whilst Katniss herself has been “rescued” by District 13, long thought to have disappeared.  Its leader, President Coin (Julianne Moore) with the help of Plutarch Heavensbee (the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman), wants to mould Katniss into a symbol of hope for the revelation, to rally all of the Districts around for a full-scale invasion of The Capital, but Katniss wants absolutely nothing to do with it – only wishing to be reunited with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who has been captured by The Capital to act as the figurehead for their side of the war.

And that is pretty much Mockingjay, Part 1; two hours of moving characters into place for Part 2 where everything will likely pay off with lots of explosions.  That sounds bad on paper, but in actuality this breathing room allows the film to really dig deep into the stuff I mentioned that I loved earlier.  The main thrust of the film comes from Katniss slowly but surely, and even a tinge regretfully, coming into and accepting the role of the symbol of the revolution, but it’s not something she immediately hops on board with – she spends a good stretch of the film just begging to be let out and for them to rescue Peeta so that she and him can just sequester themselves away from the mess she inadvertently caused.

It’s a completely understandable viewpoint, too.  Katniss is basically broken by this point – having been thrown into the Games twice, shoved into the public spotlight and being constantly reminded of the horrors she has unwittingly caused at every turn.  It makes sense that she latches onto Peeta and a desire to run away and just be happy; the poor girl deserves it.  But she can’t, she could never, and the film goes to great lengths to show that her eventual embracing of her position is just as much, if not more so, down to her strength of character when the chips are down as it is the propaganda folk carefully manoeuvring her into position behind-the-scenes.  This means that she flip-flops constantly, but it comes across in a believable way instead of mere padding.

Credit can go to Danny Strong and Peter Craig’s screenplay for this, but the plaudits should mostly be thrown the way of Jennifer Lawrence.  The series is pretty much The Jennifer Lawrence Show anyway, due to the narrative’s hyper-specific focus on Katniss, but such an observation is more of a compliment when you consider just how good she is.  Much of Katniss’ PTSD and completely frazzled emotional state is left as subtext – or possibly been cut for time, I haven’t read the books so I don’t know – but Lawrence hones in on it and just runs with it.  She keeps finding new spins on Katniss’ icy demeanour, her emotional distress, the heartbreak that Katniss suffers whenever The Capital drags up Peeta to, essentially, taunt her that the film never feels like it’s going round in circles.  And when she gets big showy material – like a rousing speech for District 8 that reads as utterly ridiculous on paper – she knocks it out of the park and elevates it significantly.

Mind you, the film is almost stolen out from under her by, who else, Philip Seymour Hoffman who essentially gets to defiantly answer those of us who went “Well, why would you cast the incredible Philip Seymour Hoffman in a role that looks that minor and inconsequential?” in Catching Fire with a firm and defiant “THAT’S why!”  As is the usual case for a lot of his best roles, Hoffman plays Heavensbee very understatedly, as the guy who prefers to blend into the background and say the right things at the right time, rather than openly standing forward and controlling the scene – which is what ends up happening to Hoffman, too.  He commands one’s attention purely by saying the right things at the right time and knowing when to cede the spotlight back to everyone else.  As final performances go, it’s obviously not up there with his turn in A Most Wanted Man from earlier this year – because it’s not trying to be – but it’s the kind of performance that reminds me of just how much talent this guy had and how much of a shame it is that we lost him so soon.

It probably also helps that the propaganda stuff that Plutarch is helping mastermind is the best part of the film by a good country mile.  Action is minimised significantly in Mockingjay, Part 1 which ends up emphasising how important aesthetics and propaganda are to a successful military effort, and the battle of the propaganda between District 13 and The Capital, each represented by one half of the series’ end-game couple for extra dramatic weight, ends up as the thematic thrust of the film.  The scenes of Haymitch, Effie, Plutarch, and Coin brainstorming ways in which to present Katniss as a fitting hero for the revolution – noting her hard-to-like uncut self as deadly in the game of propaganda – carries a lot of parallels towards the modern celebrity PR machine that are especially fitting considering the actress playing Katniss.  Whilst Peeta’s scenes at The Capital, primarily being interviewed in a very leading fashion by Caesar Flickerman, recall similar style interviews on talk shows and such.

It’s that depth – seriously, the film really goes hard for this concept, I’m not doing it justice – thematically that has always made The Hunger Games stand out from the pack and a full film based on that really is as good as it sounds.  Yes, I wish that I got to see more of the actual revolution ongoing in order to better contextualise District 13’s struggle, but that only reinforces how little the actual fighting matters in the game of war and would also take away from Katniss’ story.  Yes, I wish that characters like Effie got a more expanded screen-time to better integrate themselves into the story, but that’s the sort of thing that Part 2 could pay off.  I even found the film to be incredibly well-paced, the two hours just breezing by!

Then, at two hours, Mockingjay, Part 1 stops.mocking jay 5

It just stops.  It smash cuts to credits, shouts “Right, that’s your lot!  Get out!” and then forcibly removes you from the theatre.  There is a cliffhanger, but it’s not a great one.  To put it another way: Catching Fire’s cliffhanger felt like an exclamation point.  The adventures of Katniss Everdeen clearly weren’t done, but the story there clearly was – coming to a halt by following through on President Snow’s promise to destroy her life if she continued to rebel.  It makes sense as a stopping point.  Mockingjay, Part 1’s cliffhanger is like if the author telling you the story had been shot halfway through and you had to wait a year for them to come out of their coma.  Oh, and you need to pay another £10 for the privilege of hearing them finish the story because they conveniently forgot that you already paid them once before.

There’s no closure, no sense that this is where we get off, no satisfaction.  Just blue balls and a whole lot of withholding.  I don’t feel like I’ve seen a full movie, I feel like I’ve seen two-thirds of a movie and somebody’s misplaced the final reel.  It’s especially troubling and irritating because the film that Part 1 is setting Part 2 up to be – a big action blow-out where stuff goes bang – is not the film that I want to see.  It’s the film that I could not be less interested in seeing.  This, quite simply, should have been one three-hour movie.  Cut a few scenes from Part 1, scale down what would be Part 2 into that third hour, and you would have a film that more than likely would have been excellent and a fantastic send-off for the franchise.

Instead, Lionsgate have near-fatally kneecapped The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 to be able to double their goes at the money pump.  I love the film that I have – I really, really do; I think it’s outstanding – but I haven’t got a full film.  I’ve gotten two-thirds of a full film, and that fact is why my dissatisfaction and personal lack of closure is only festering and growing with time.  If Mockingjay, Part 2 does, in fact, have so much quality material and stuff to fill both of the hours that it is going to take up, and pays off everything in this film spectacularly and moves me to tears, then I will take back all of these negative thoughts and worship at the series’ altar.  However, I have the feeling that even a transcendental Part 2 will not make up for a film that’s not finished and a conclusion that

Callum Petch is not in the swing of things yet.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

A Most Wanted Man

A Most Wanted Man is an exceptionally made film, with a great Philip Seymour Hoffman performance, that did pretty much nothing for me.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

a most wanted manI do not delude myself into thinking that my reviews are gospel, or that they are even slightly useful as consumer advice.  Fact of the matter is that I don’t know you.  No offense, you’re probably really nice and are stimulating conversation, but it’s not possible for me to know every single person who reads my work, so I don’t know what you will or will not like.   It’s why I rarely use pronouns like “we” or “you” and mostly stick to “I”.  “I felt…”  “I thought…”  Because that’s what my reviews are, my own subjective opinion.  If you find thoughts and points in my reviews that you think will help you decide whether to see or skip a film, then that’s a bonus to you!  Whenever I deploy “you need to see this” or “you should stay away”, it’s typically because I selfishly want to see films I like succeed and films I dislike bomb.  I may utterly despise Sex Tape and find it relentlessly unfunny, but that doesn’t mean that you might.  You might even like it!  You’d be wrong, but I’m not you so I wouldn’t know.

I bring this up because I am perfectly aware that a lot of people like A Most Wanted Man.  I am perfectly aware that a lot of people think that it’s one of the best films released so far this year, and I can see why people like it.  I can appreciate its artistry, the way that it’s shot, its deliberate pacing, its strong performances; all the technical stuff.  But the film otherwise did nothing for me.  Look, I am sorry, I really tried to get into A Most Wanted Man.  I was there for the entire two hours desperately trying to get into it as something other than a piece of technical and artistic majesty…  but I just couldn’t.  I found the film cold, clinical, bereft of emotion; I get that that is the point, but I found it TOO cold, TOO clinical, TOO emotionless, if you catch my drift.  I couldn’t break through into the film and the world of the film, so I instead spent the entire runtime watching plot happen at a deliberate pace.  That is fine, if you like that sort of thing, and there are a lot of people that do, but it’s not really for me.  Or, at least, if a film must just be plot happening, I need it to be of a fast enough or fun enough pace that I don’t notice or care about the lack emotion powering the whole thing until it’s too late.

In any case, A Most Wanted Man’s plot follows a German espionage group, led by Günther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman in his final lead role), as they attempt to track down the titular Most Wanted Man, Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), an illegal refugee from Chechnya who may or may not have ties to the Al Qaeda terror cell that helped plot the 9/11 attacks.  Issa himself appears to have done nothing wrong, only wishing to seek asylum in Germany and possibly access his departed father’s blood money, but he ends up being unwittingly manipulated and fought over by various intelligence agencies.  Günther wants to use him to get to Muslim philanthropist and suspected terrorist bankroller Dr. Faisal Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi), planning to turn him, and pretty much anyone else even remotely connected to him and Issa, including a German banker (Willem Dafoe) and the lawyer assigned to Issa’s case (Rachel McAdams), into assets to take down the members of Al Qaeda with real power.  Günther’s higher-ups are more content to sell everyone involved down river to the Americans, who themselves would rather just take down Issa and everyone connected to him immediately, via extraordinary rendition, in order to score a PR win with the people back home.

As you can probably guess from the premise and the fact that this is a slow-moving spy drama, an adaptation of a John le Carré novel no less, the acting is the real star of the show, here.  Robin Wright, who turns up as the liaison between Günther and the Americans, manages to balance warm confidant and steely not-totally-trustworthy professionalism with aplomb, frequently in the same scene.  Dobrygin is very assured as Issa, a scared man out of his depth who never seems to quite grasp how everybody around him is manipulating him for their own ends.  Willem Dafoe makes it 2 for 1 in Great 2014 Supporting Performances (like he’s going out of his way to apologise to me for being involved in Beyond: Two Souls or something) with a great turn as the banker who is practically forced into, and can’t quite handle, Günther’s spy game.

But, as should be really obvious by his mere presence, the standout is Philip Seymour Hoffman, in a sad reminder of what a talent we lost this year.  Whereas Gary Oldman played George Smiley in 2011’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy as a cold, detached yet efficient master spy, Hoffman plays Günther (who I feel is cut from pretty much the same cloth as Smiley, but feel free to post giant essay length differences between the two in the comments, I have a feeling I’m wrong on this) as a man who is just completely tired of all of this shit.  Tired of the spy game, tired of the politics that hamper his work, tired of people who can’t or refuse to see the bigger picture that he can, and tired of both the fact that he has to ruin lives to get his men and of the people whose lives he has to ruin.  He tries to put up a facade of humanity, he’s still able to joke with his colleagues and feign tolerance when he has to interact with those who conspire against him, but it’s weak and barely hides his tiredness.  It’s subtle and understated, too, fitting excellently the mood of the film, and makes the one time when he does display an emotion that isn’t resignation a genuine shock.  It reminds me a lot of his performance in Truman, which I found similarly restrained and non-showy, and it’s a fitting end for his leading man career; a reminder of how he could walk into a film and steal it out from under the noses of his more obviously-trying counterparts by just being the role.

Though the acting is the star of the film, that’s not to discredit the look and feel of the film.  As you may have gathered, this is meant to be an old-fashioned spy thriller and director Anton Corbijn (previous of the excellent and similarly slow-paced Control and The American) turns out to be a perfect fit for this.  He keeps the pace slow but not glacial, accurately reflecting the extremely slow speed that Günther’s process of espionage takes but having every scene effectively build to the end goal.  The film is gorgeously shot but the world has a sexless and cold feel to it; despite the many great shots that the film throws up (one of my favourites involves a great usage of focussing during a pivotal scene), there is no beauty in the world of the film.  But it also resists the urge to take shortcuts and make the world overly grim looking, there are no extremely grimy locals, no overly muted colour-palettes, the film doesn’t spend three-quarters of its runtime in council estates or the like.  It feels very much real, like these are things that can and do happen on a frequent basis and it really helps the meditative mood, creating a world that I imagine is very easy to get lost in.

THAT BEING SAID…  I couldn’t get into the film beyond appreciating its artistry.  Again, believe me, I tried.  I tried to break through.  I tried to get invested in the characters.  I tried to see Philip Seymour Hoffman and Willem Dafoe and Rachel McAdams as the characters that they were playing instead of just actors doing really good performances.  But I couldn’t.  I’m sorry, I just couldn’t.  The problem with it for me, the same problem I had with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy in 2011, is that the film is just too cold.  When I go to see a film, I usually like to lose myself in the world, to meet new and interesting characters whose desires and fates I can be invested in in some way.  If a film isn’t aiming to do that, then I need enough spectacle or a fast-enough pace or at least a good sense of fun in order to not care too much about that.  I like to be invested emotionally, on a deeper level than admiration.

A Most Wanted Man doesn’t really do that.  It does want to be about, on at least one of its levels, the weight and toll that comes from flipping people into assets, on the both the part of the flipper and the flippee, but I found the film too emotionally guarded to let me in on that level.  I could sit there and understand that that was what it was going for, but that’s it.  I didn’t connect emotionally to anyone because the film wouldn’t let me.  Initially, I mistook the film for just being soulless, but I realised that to be patently untrue by about the halfway mark, this instead being a conscious design choice.  So, instead of fully connecting with and being invested in proceedings, I mostly sat back in my chair frustratingly watching plot pieces move into place real slow like.  I understand that this will be to many people’s taste, that they will get onto the film’s wavelength and have no such quarrel, but I like to have that deeper connection with films, not just spending the runtime standing there looking through the window whilst everyone inside throws a giant party.  (For an example of the kind of artistic majesty film that did resonate with me on a deeper level than just appreciation for its impeccable design, I point you in the direction of Under The Skin.)

I can nitpick the score, though, mind.  Whereas the rest of the film, in the way that it’s shot and plotted and paced and acted, perfectly encapsulates the slow-burning emotionally-distant spy drama that it’s going for, the score is too lively for my tastes.  Everything else is understated and reserved, but the score is a bit too open and traditional, loudly ominous and dramatic in a way that felt like a drunken frat boy turning up in the audience of a Shakespeare production filled with quiet appreciative upper-class theatre lovers and yelling out “OH, SHIT, SON!” whenever anything important happens.  Pretty sure I counted several instances of it even starting up when somebody said something dramatic, the score equivalent of said, “OH, SHIT, SON!”  I feel it could have been more understated and more trusting of the audience, especially since the rest of the film decides that the audience is smart enough to follow along without having every plot beat spelt out for them.

Between this and 2011’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (which I saw in cinemas when it came out and had basically the exact same opinion on as I do this), I get the feeling that John le Carré stories just aren’t for me.  I can appreciate them as artistic achievements but my enjoyment of them really doesn’t go any further.  I did find the last fifteen minutes of this rather tense and the ending, whilst initially giving me the same “Err, don’t we still have 15 minutes left of the film to show?” feeling that If I Stay had, has been rising in my estimations the more I let it sit, neither connected with me on the emotional level.  I was tense for the plot, to see if everything that the plot had been building towards would come crashing down at the last minute, rather than for character reasons, whether Günther gets his man or not and what would happen to everyone involved.  My connection with his works doesn’t go any further than the “these are some really well made films” level.  When I get some free time, I’ll hunt down some of his books and some more of his films and see if it’s just these films where this is a problem, or whether the books carry something that the films lack, or whether this turns out to just be my overall feelings on his various works.

For now, though, I’ll just have to concede that A Most Wanted Man just isn’t for me.  It’s a stunningly well-made film with a magnificent Philip Seymour Hoffman performance, but that’s all that it managed to connect with me on, the constructed surface level.  I concede that I am in the minority about this and that fans of John le Carré novels and adaptations will probably love it.  I also concede that people who like the idea of slow-moving yet intelligent spy dramas will probably also love it.  But I was left cold by this one, and seeing as a review consists of my personal thoughts on a movie, that’s all I can concretely tell you about it.

Callum Petch sees you through his spy glasses, baby.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Failed Critics Podcast: Philip Seymour Hoffman. RIP.

PSHWelcome to this week’s podcast, one in which we celebrate the work of one of this generations finest actors: Philip Seymour Hoffman. You’ll get no ghoulish speculation of judgmental nonsense here, just heartfelt appreciation of a master of his craft.

If you need cheering up after that, we also have reviews of I Frankenstein, August: Osage County, and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, as well as a much needed review of Nic Cage’s Knowing.

Join us next week as we review the remake of RoboCop, as well as the Oscar-nominated Dallas Buyers Club.

LISTEN VIA ACAST FOR THE MOST INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCE

DIRECT DOWNLOAD LINK

The Master

Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film that definitely isn’t about Scientology looks incredible and has two great (and at times, astonishing) central performances at its heart. Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell – an able seaman recently discharged from the navy at the end of the war and struggling to hold down a civilian job due to his alcohol dependency. We’re not just talking too many beers and whiskys though – Quell is some kind of booze alchemist, creating potions and poisons from any drink and household chemicals he finds lying around. We’ve all known someone like Freddie Quell, and chances are we haven’t heard from them in the last ten years or so. Philip Seymour Hoffman is Lancaster Dodds, the ‘Master’ of The Cause, who takes Freddie under his wing and struggles to ‘cure’ and control him.

Anderson creates a hugely believable world, with an interesting premise. Amy Adams puts in a lovely performance as Dodd’s wife, while the audience is also treated to a wonderful soundtrack from Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood.

Yet, The Master bored me immensely. In fact, I haven’t seen a film become less than the sum of its parts in such a drastic way in a very long time.

We’re presented with two fascinating characters, who when they’re talking to each other (and to the people around them) hold my interest and draw me in much like the cult they represent. The problem is neither character really goes on a personal or external journey of any real consequence. I could forgive the lack of a journey if I had some sense of the history of the characters, or some deeper insight into their motivations. Indeed, Quell’s lack of a personal journey is symptomatic of the failure of The Cause’s methods. But what makes Quell so different from all the other demobbed servicemen of the time? Does Dodds believe what he is teaching, and if not, what is leading him to deceive all these people? Over the course of the film’s 140-minute running time we see no great urge for money or power from Dodds.

The Cause is all about discovering past lives, and righting wrongs that may have happened billions of years ago. Perhaps it was Anderson’s intention to make the ‘current’ lives the viewer sees onscreen superficial and lacking in depth or context as a counterpoint to the teachings of The Cause. However frustrated me and felt like when I see singers get the crowd to bellow the lines of their biggest hit, seemingly unaware that the audience have paid to see them perform. Ambiguity has its place, but I demand my storytellers to actually tell me a story, and not rely on me to fill in the vast majority of the blanks.

There also appeared to be a TWENTY MINUTE training montage in the middle of the film. If you’re going to have a training montage, the least you can do is soundtrack it with something like “You’re the Best Around” from The Karate Kid.

Watching The Master felt like I was watching a film that I ‘should’ like. It did everything a great film should, and Anderson is clearly an incredibly talented director. I just couldn’t connect with this film at all.

It didn’t grab me here *points to heart*

Or engage me here *points to head*

Overall, there is plenty to admire about this film, but very little to love. Feels like a wasted opportunity.