Not quite Master of his domain
IF art is judged on its ability to provoke debate, then Paul Thomas Anderson makes great art.
With The Master, Anderson has incurred the wrath of the Church of Scientology. But this is an overlong demonstration of virtuoso film-making that is by turns dazzling and boorishly pretentious.
Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is the figurehead of a burgeoning philosophical movement known as The Cause. His followers grow in number across America and Lancaster is delighted to welcome alcoholic war veteran Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) into the fold as his "guinea pig and protege", despite the warnings of his wife Peggy (Amy Adams).
Peggy recognises Freddie as a damaged and emotionally volatile soul and tries to curb his dangerous impulses. However, that primal rage which percolates inside Freddie proves useful for Lancaster as he encounters resistance to his argument and even scorn from his own son (Jesse Plemons).
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The Master is distinguished by its performances.
Phoenix's unswerving commitment to his role is undeniable.
At times, he drifts through scenes in a drowsy stupor, incomprehension flickering in his eyes as he searches for salvation. In other scenes, rage explodes. Hoffman is charismatic as the leader, who may or may not hold all of the answers. Adams will also be vying for Oscar consideration.
Anderson's film is easy to admire for its ambition and directorial verve, but hard to worship for the protracted sequences of pointlessness.