The Master


March 16   

USA 2012, 143 minutes, 15 certificate

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams

The Master

Hammy and plummy … Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master. Photograph: Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar

Joaquin Phoenix is Freddie Quell, recently de-mobbed from military service in WWII. He is a man with a past – short-fused, violent, with a troubling attitude to women and a capacity to brew near hallucinogenic moonshine out of whatever otherwise noxious liquid he has to hand. His efforts at building a life post war start to unravel. By chance, he comes upon a welcoming, kind, and accommodating group of people who immediately befriend him and offer him solace, safety, and the potential to heal himself. This group are affiliated to a set of beliefs known as ‘The Cause’, under the dazzlingly charismatic leadership of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s ‘Master’ Lancaster Dodd.

This is not a film about Scientology, you understand. Given that organisation’s, shall we say, litigious sensitivities, we must just get that cleared up from the off. However Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest is an expansive and masterful consideration of a self-help guru with a lucrative side-line in publishing, a man with a devoted, needy, and passionately defensive following in late 1940’s America. His philosophy involves aliens and past lives extending back ‘trillions’ of years – submission to his doctrine allows the individual to connect with their countless former selves, and find the path to individual self-realisation. Fans of Anderson’s work will recognise his sweeping cinematic style, and his closely observed, carefully paced, and lavishly composed examination of his subject. What differs slightly here is the focus on the psychological tug of war between troubled loose cannon Freddie and Hoffman’s controlling guru, and the former’s ambivalent response to The Master’s attempts to manipulate him. Phoenix has certainly never been better – damaged, vulnerable, volatile, compelling. Hoffman, as ever, is a joy to watch as a man with an apparent lightness of touch, but a passionate need to control, and a requirement of absolute submission. And Amy Adams exudes saccharine venom as the Master’s latest bride, his most devoted and zealous follower. The film made it to the top 10 of numerous critical top 10’s of 2012, and is definitely one that demands to be seen on a big screen.