The Master, a film by Paul Thomas Anderson, director of Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love, and There Will Be Blood, is about a World War II veteran, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) who stumbles into the company of ‘The Cause’. Founded by Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and wife Peggy Dodd (Amy Adams) ‘The Cause’ is a growing body of people, or ‘cult’ that believes in past lives and time travel, who want to help people through their science based beliefs.
It’s a great piece of film-making with a remarkable script and the cast, Hoffman and Phoenix especially are incredible. This could well be Joaquin Phoenix’s best performance. Yet while I applaud it I also feel it was lacking in some way. But I can’t quite put my finger on what. What I’ve concluded is this. It’s Joaquin Phoenix, who delivers an emotional and truly memorable performance, that makes the film; who really drives it forward, but his story and exposition is overlooked somewhat in favour of ‘The Cause’. It starts off with Freddie Quell in WWII and afterwards his struggle to readjust to life as a civilian, but all to quickly jumps into his introduction to ‘The Cause’ where his own story seems to fade into the background. You attach yourself to this character who not long after finding his way into a cult reveals little else about himself. You kind of jump ship, leaving Freddie Quell as unfinished business and invest in Lancaster Dodd instead. For me this could have been two separate films. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the merging of both stories I just felt one lacked as a result. However it’s still a brilliant film, hard-hitting, with jaw-dropping performances, and one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s best. Magnolia is still a favourite of mine.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with Scientology, first Google Tom Cruise (He’s a big supporter), followed by a dozen other high-profile actors including Jon Travolta. Paul Thomas Anderson has admitted The Master is about the beginnings of Scientology which to this day is still considered by some as a cult, focusing on its founder L Ron Hubbard, but more than that it’s a character piece, driven by two of Hollywood’s best and a great supporting cast. The Master has its weak points but with ease manages to be one of the better films of 2012. While I won’t be watching it again any time soon due to its epic length (in true Paul Thomas Anderson style) you should see it at least once in your lifetime.