Sign in using your account with
The Broken Tower: A Hart Crane Biopic Strictly for Fans
This is a case of somebody making a film about a subject, or in this case a person, that they love so much to the point that they don’t care what the outcome’s like. The process gives them a chance to act on their love in the most personal way possible and that’s all they’re aiming for. This isn’t a film for James Franco fans; this is a film for Hart Crane fans. To actually be able to get into it, you need to share Franco’s love for the poet, or at the very least, a healthy appreciation for his work.
Having said that, the film needs a viewer with prior knowledge of the man and his work, not just to be able to fully appreciate his genius, but to actually be able to follow the story. It follows Crane’s (Franco) life from his time as an aspiring poet, stuck doing menial labour in his dad’s factory, right up to his suicide at the age of thirty-two. The film is divided into various disjointed segments, each chronicling a different part or aspect of his life. The most engaging and illuminating part takes place fairly early on and it is when Crane describes his poetic voice as one that’s based more on happiness than just giving in to despair.
Most of the other segments focus on either his romantic partners or his drinking problems, occasionally both, and they cause the film to lag considerably. With the former, his partners are just a bunch of anonymous faces. They’re practically interchangeable especially as their main characterisation is that Crane is smitten with them. As for his alcohol abuse, one segment he’s drinking normally when suddenly in the next, he’s puking on the pavement. The change is too abrupt depicting him more as a drunk not a drunkard; a fact that only becomes clear after we recurrently see him drunkenly prancing around a bar. This isn’t an acting problem, especially as Franco is perfectly decent as the poet, as much as it is a writing one.
The segments are linked together with either bits of letters Crane had written or bits of poetry being narrated. The letters are pretty easy to follow but the poetry just washes over you, unless of course you have a natural aptitude for it or a prior familiarity with Crane’s work.
This isn’t a conventional type of film and it’s intentionally targeted to a niche audience, but Franco’s passion for the poet and this film is clear and makes it rather endearing. He just made a film for the hell of it which is pretty brave and quite admirable – even if he is the only person who’ll end up liking it.
The first half focuses far too much on Kelsey and Lynette and not enough on say, Rebecca Hall who plays Alan’s sister Mel. In fact, the film in general is pretty light on Hall and she just randomly drops out of the film without having her arc tied up, even though she’s the most magnetic performer in the whole thing. Canterbury, on the other hand, has far too big a part and while he’s decent as Kelsey, his pouting does become a bit one-note after a while.
The second half is, thankfully, far superior, mainly because Alan and Ben grow out of their immaturity and are forced to make some big decisions that shed some light on their relationship and back story. This is also where Sandvig and Ritter’s chemistry shines. They really nail the old friends dynamic and it stretches and warps as a wedge is driven between them, challenging their entire way of life.
Paul Thomas Anderson is the man behind cinematic gems like Magnolia, There Will Be Blood and Boogie Nights, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that The Master is unquestionably one of the director’s most dazzling and mesmerising visual compositions to date.
The narrative is centred on Freddie Quell (Phoenix); an emotionally and mentally disturbed WWII naval veteran who is having difficulty adjusting to post-war life. After spending some time in a veteran's hospital, being treated for what appears to be a posttraumatic stress disorder, Freddie is released into the wild. Not really knowing his place in the world, he moves from one tedious job to another; alcoholism and his violent and volatile outbursts – which erupt at the slightest provocation – get the better of him and holding onto a job and finding peace of mind eludes him.
One night, on a scavenge for more booze, Freddie sneaks onboard a party boat. After awakening from a drunken coma, he meets Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman); an unconventional and alluring man who claims to be a doctor, philosopher, physicist and, above all, ‘a man’. A man who alongside his devoted wife, Peggy (Adams), has fathered semi-religious organisation, 'The Cause'. Built on radical concepts of rigorous mental analysis, the movement aims to discover some kind of a deeper truth about the origin of human beings. Dodd preaches that everyone is capable of abolishing their 'animalistic' ways and only by reconstructing themselves back into 'perfect human specimens' will they be able to live a free and a fulfilled life. Taking an instant liking to Freddie, and his unsound mental state, Dodd takes him under his wing and Freddie soon becomes the 'pet' project for the self proclaimed 'master'.
It's been a long time since a film this engrossing and captivating has found its way onto the silver screen. Working on multiple levels and focusing primarily on the dynamic between Freddie and Dodd, The Master demands unwavering attention. Each layer of the plot holds its own meaning and subtle metaphors; ones that pose a lot of unanswered questions – it leaves it up to the viewer to digest.
Shot entirely in the rarely used 65mm format, Anderson, alongside cinematographer, Robert Elswit, really pushes the envelope, visually; the dreamlike water scenes and the impeccable portrayal of the 1950's come to life and contribute to the aura of the film.
The towering performances from both of its leads are something special; Phoenix in particular, hangs in limbo, between sanity and partial madness, and delivers a performance of a lifetime. From the slouchy posture to the sunken eyes, he's never looked more haunting. The same can be said for the ever-charming Hoffman, whose portrayal of the enigmatic leader is just as electric, while Adams' quiet presence is eerie and captivating at the same time, as the dutiful wife.
The Master possesses a presence that can't be denied and if you don't 'get it' from the first viewing, its okay, give it another try – it will get you. There is no escaping its hypnotic charm.