Review: The Master
The last time Joaquin Phoenix was on screen he looked a right state – fat, bearded and attempting to rap in performance art project I'm Still Here. In his first proper acting role in four years there are times when he looks even worse.
Playing Freddie Quell, a violent, heavy drinking ex-soldier he is also absolutely extraordinary, like nothing you've quite seen before.
Quell is a rudimentary expression of humanity, concerned solely with quenching his appetites.
The early scenes at the very end of the war in the Pacific look like something cut from The Thin Red Line. Rotating back to the civilian world, he can't fit in until in 1950 he chances upon Lancaster Dodds (Philip Seymour Hoffman, similarly compelling), an L. Ron Hubbard figure pushing a cult-style doctrine called The Cause.
His followers grow in number in drawing rooms across America and Lancaster is delighted to welcome the alcoholic war veteran 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).
The film-makers' protests that the film isn't about Scientology aren't entirely disingenuous. The figure of Dodds and his form of Processing wouldn't make a bit of sense without Hubbard and Dianetics as reference points but the film is not a debunking or expose of Scientology, which dramatically may be a problem.
- 1 Former Norwich restaurant to be transformed into £1.5m food hall
- 2 Man refusing to pay rent for council flat over 16-year mould problem
- 3 Mum has foot run over in incident with foul-mouthed driver
- 4 Parking charges at city parks has raised £0
- 5 Norwich's tiniest pub completes facelift
- 6 Extra security measures approved for flats plagued by drug use
- 7 Bottomless brunch with 90s act, fried chicken and cocktails heading to city
- 8 Concerns raised over fate of junior school site
- 9 City teen named Ikea drops furniture brand as first name
- 10 Five street food vendors doing residencies in Norwich pubs
Viewers' expectation is that through Quell, Dodds will be revealed to us but this is not the case. The film is not concerned with The Cause or Processing; it is about the force pulling Quell and Dodds together.
The Master is a box of wonders, a cryptic puzzle, containing two of the finest performances you'll see all year, yet you may find it all oddly muted, inconsequential.
THE MASTER (15)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour hoffman, Amy Adams, Ambyr Childers and Laura Dern
Length: 143 mins