Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Capsules: Arbitrage and The Master

"Arbitrage" is a little more interesting than you would have expected from the trailer. But ultimately Nicholas Jarecki doesn't do too much out of the ordinary, only letting in little bursts of interest and letting his hand get weaker and weaker as the film goes on. Richard Gere's billionaire honcho Robert Miller is ostensibly the film's center, running from the scene of his own car crash and thoroughly screwing up his already frantic lifestyle. Yet he fades into the background for much of the middle, while the moral stakes between a teenager seen as an accomplice (Nate Parker) and a detective who's trying to get to the bottom of things (Tim Roth) take up large amounts of the film. Supposedly peripheral characters (Susan Sarandon and Brit Marling as Miller's wife and daughter, respectively) get more screen time than they should, and nothing in the plot feels developed enough. Parker and Roth make the film watchable, but Jarecki's gaze wanders too much to give them what they deserve. The issue of race crops up way too much too, and between the African-American Jimmy and Miller's Asian butler Jarecki definitely seems to be laying it on thick that Miller is a hardcore exploiter. When it all comes to a head, it's hard to really care about anything. C

Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" combines his previous two films, the sublime "Punch-Drunk Love" and the shrill and unbearable "There Will Be Blood" into an excessively handsome package. Freddie Quell is another example of PTA's favorite character type, the self-destructive charmer. Joaquin Phoenix plays him scarily, and it's for the most part a remarkable performance, to match the exceptional work of Philip Seymour Hoffman and a strong but mis/underused Amy Adams. Though Quell seems to be so off-kilter due to a mishandled romance with a girl back in Massachusetts, it's really hard to say what drives him to bizarre behaviors and an inability to fit in on the sea, in the city, in the fields, or ultimately in Hoffman's Master's Scientology-esque cult. Quell succeeds most prominently in the final place, becoming the group's enforcer and a specimen of its success, but he soon falls apart and can't take it too much longer. The film's central idea (how can you live without a master?) is extremely interesting, and many scenes are brilliantly executed (including a stare-down, a prison shouting match, and a montage of religious conditioning). The film is also often strikingly composed (by Francis Ford Coppola regular Mihai Malaimare Jr.), with a couple of indelible shots and camera placements. But everything feels a little too studied, and though I think I'll need to see it again, I don't think there's enough blood here to make this the masterpiece that many have heralded it as. B

1 comment:

Stephanie Ward said...

Excellent reviews, Nick! I am really looking forward to The Master. It sounds like you found it to be a solid film, though you're one of many reviewers I've seen who feels Amy Adams was underused. The Richard Gere film sounds like one I can pass on.