Writer/Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Laura Dern
Freddie Quell (Phoenix) is trying to make a living as a veteran in a post World War II society. He left a girl behind when he went to serve in the Navy and now he is a drifter trying to find a steady job. He finds temporary work as a photographer in a department store. His problem with the bottle seems to get him into more trouble than he realizes. He can't seem to stop the drinking especially since he makes his own potent concoction. Paint thinner just happens to be one of his secret ingredients. Stumbling around town one night, he boards a private boat lit up for a party. Aboard this boat is Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), his faithful wife Peggy (Adams), the rest of the Dodd clan, and some other party-goers.
Freddie wakes up and is escorted to Lancaster's room. Lancaster reveals to Freddie that he opened up to him about all of his problems. Freddie does not recollect that part of the evening, but he goes along with what Lancaster is saying. Lancaster tells Freddie he can help him out in life. Lancaster is an author and religious leader. He has started a small following of people that believe in his way of beliefs and living, called The Cause. Lancaster's beliefs seem to be controversial. He holds these counseling type sessions with an individual person while a group of other followers stand around and watch. The always charismatic and strong-minded Lancaster has reeled Freddie in. Freddie follows Lancaster and his family as they travel around promoting The Cause. Freddie is tested once Lancasters son, Val (Jesse Plemons), reveals to him that Lancaster is making this all up as he goes along.
The Master is not an easy film to watch for many reasons. The movie was labeled as controversial very early on in as it bears similarities to L.Ron Hubbard and how he founded Scientology. I think that many be the reason why many people are seeing the movie. I do not know enough about Scientology to know if Lancaster Dodd and The Cause are a direct comparison to Hubbard and Scientology or if the movie is more of a look at these types of contemporary religions with charismatic leaders. The film feels very slow at times. I would not say that I was bored, but I was often wondering where the movie was going or what was going to happen next to Freddie. Would he wise up to Lancaster's way or would he continue to fall into the rabbit hole? I could tell that many people around me were feeling bored.
The movie was beautifully shot in 65 mm by Mihai Malaimaire, Jr. Not many movies are filmed in 65 mm anymore as we are in this digital age of the cinema. Anderson has previously directed many actors to Oscar nominations and a win for Daniel Day-Lewis for There Will Be Blood. I expect to see Phoenix, Hoffman, and possibly Adams named in this years list of nominations. Phoenix gives a full-force performance. He is constantly contorting and moving his body. His voice can be inaudible at times often mumbling through the side of his mouth. This may bother some people or not if you can actually understand him. This is the fourth collaboration between Hoffman and Anderson. He gives one of the best performances of his career. He makes Lancaster a very mysterious character. He plays him as someone that always seems to be "on". Often performing or being a larger version of himself for the followers under his rule. You never find out who Lancaster really is or where he came from or how he got to this point in his life.
Paul Thomas Anderson has never been known to make a simple movie. He never writes and directs a movie that does not challenge him as a filmmaker. He never makes a movie that does not ask something of the audience. His latest is no different. In fact, I would say it is the most daring movie to date. I think this may be considered this years The Tree of Life. It is another movie that is very artistically made and has a lot going for it. It will be hailed by critics as cinematic geniousness, but it will leave a lot of cinema goers scratching their head as they leave. I have always loved the work of Paul Thomas Anderson. I never took my eyes off the screen, but at the same time I was never able to fully sink in and go with the movie. I was not as drawn into it as I was with Magnolia or There Will Be Blood. I would be curious to see what it is like with a second viewing.
RATING: *** 1/2 (3.5 out of 5 stars)