Pornography as a cultural influence in Boogie Nights; the squeaky sound of an abandoned harmonium in Punch-Drunk Love; frogs falling from the sky in Magnolia. The works of auteur director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson over the last decade and a half might be some of the most challenging films to dissect for the average moviegoer, but none have been as demanding, ambiguous, and dreamlike as his latest offering The Master. Inspired and loosely based on the early teachings of L. Ron Hubbard (although the word Scientology is never uttered), Anderson has once again proven why he is the most intelligent and distinctive filmmaker working today. This time, however, it does come at the price of alienating audiences with a drama not nearly as narrative-driven as his others and one that will easily take multiple viewings to pin down and decipher all of Anderson's lofty and visionary concepts.
Coming four years after his full-fledged masterpiece There Will Be Blood, which earned Daniel Day-Lewis a decisive second Academy Award, Anderson returns with another bizarrely compelling character study of a man who has "wandered from the proper path" and found himself under the guidance of a leader he strongly admires and later questions. Freddy Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a mentally unstable, alcoholic drifter lost in a tiresome post WWII existence. He finds solace when recruited by Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) to join his flock and partake in the unconventional therapies meant to help individuals expose their past lives by what seems like slow-burn brainwashing.
Hoffman's performance is beyond words, as always, but it is Phoenix's take on the animalistic nature of man that speaks volumes to the core elements of what makes the film such a devastating one to shake.
Dir. and writ. Paul Thomas Anderson; feat. Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Laura Dern, Jesse Plemons, Ambyr Childers, Rami Malek (R)