A psychologically troubled novelty supplier is nudged towards a romance with an English woman, all the while being extorted by a phone-sex line run by a crooked mattress salesman, and purchasing stunning amounts of pudding.
Paul Thomas Anderson
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Returning from Navy service in World War II, Freddie Quell drifts through a series of breakdowns. Finally he stumbles upon a cult which engages in exercises to clear emotions and he becomes deeply involved with them. Written by
Alan Young, edit Hal Issen
"I am a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist, a theoretical philosopher, but above all, I am a man, just like you"
Paul Thomas Anderson has grown as perhaps the greatest American auteur of his generation. At 42, this is his 6th film (following 1996's "Hard Eight", 1997's "Boogie Nights", 1999's "Magnolia" - my all-time favorite -, 2002's "Punch-Drunk Love", and 2007's "There Will Be Blood"). Like the late master Kubrick and the aging master Terrence Malick (who, coincidentally, just debuted his 6th film, "To the Wonder", at the latest Venice Film Festival where PTA won the Silver Lion for Best Director), he isn't the most prolific of filmmakers; but his perfectionist creations, cerebral yet strikingly cinematic and emotional, always leave an indelible mark (polarizing audiences but usually earning critical acclaim). "The Master" is no exception. Shot on 70mm film, it is not so much of an "outside" epic as you'd imagine - although every single image is stunning and perfectly composed (courtesy of cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr., who replaced Robert Elswit, Anderson's usual collaborator). It closely resembles "There Will Be Blood" in tone and content, but it stands on its own (Jonny Greenwood is once again responsible for the score).
Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a troubled and troubling drifter who becomes the right-hand man of Lancaster Dodd (actor extraordinaire Philip Seymour Hoffman), "the master" of a cult named The Cause in post-WWII America. Their strange, ambiguous relationship is the center of the film. "The Master" is a thought-provoking indictment of cult fanaticism and lies sold as religion, which has caused controversy and concern among Scientologists even before its release. By not mentioning real names, Anderson is capable of broadening the scope of his story and making it richer - and subtler - than a straightforward "Scientology flick" would have been. Like his previous films, there's more than meets the eye at a single viewing, and his attention to detail pays off (there's also a visual homage to Jonathan Demme's "Melvin and Howard", another favorite of Anderson's, in a motorcycle racing scene). Hoffman is as good as ever, and Amy Adams is highly effective (slowly depriving herself of cutesy mannerisms) as his wife. David Lynch's golden girl Laura Dern has a small role as well. But this is Joaquin Phoenix's hour, all the way. River Phoenix's younger brother has become a fascinating actor himself since Gus Van Sant's dark comedy "To Die For" (1995), and, after his much publicized "retirement from acting" and music career hoax in 2009, he managed to come back with a performance for the ages, which shall culminate in Oscar gold. As for Anderson, it is unsure whether the Academy will finally recognize him as he deserves. His films may still be too outlandish for the Academy's taste (he's announced his next project will be an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's crime novel "Inherent Vice", a seemingly less ambitious project he hopes to make in less than five years). Regardless of Oscar numbers, we can rest assured that in a world where PTA gets to make such personal and original work and find his audience, there is still hope, and room, for intelligent filmmaking.
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