Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film includes an astounding performance from Joaquin Phoenix
Following up There Will Be Blood was always going to be a daunting task, but Paul Thomas Anderson truly delivers in The Master. It's the story of two men: Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a restless ex navy man, a rough bundle of nerves; Philip Seymour Hoffman plays his mentor, the silken slimeball Lancaster Dodd, charismatic founder of The Cause, a Scientology-style cult. It’s 1950 and they meet when Freddie stows away on a boat Dodd is renting and the men bond over their shared taste for industrial-strength booze. Coming between them is Dodd’s glassy eyed, true believer wife Peggy (Amy Adams).
The Master is about how some men need to follow and others to lead, about family and faith and the ravages of war. To Lancaster, Freddie represents the ultimate challenge - he tries to tame him as you would a beast, but it’s also a platonic love story with the suggestion that feelings between them run deep. The Master benefits from a delicious, antiquated aesthetic, which emulates the films of the period and was partly achieved by shooting on 65mm film.
Anderson turns the cynical subject matter into sincere, elegantly interrogative filmmaking and avoids obvious judgements. He understands that the most sublime cinematic spectacle is the sight of the human face in all its exquisite detail. What he’s captured in The Master are two performers at the top of their game and the power of Hoffman and Phoenix’s dynamic astounds. This may be less flamboyant than some of Anderson’s previous films but when it comes to complex, confounding drama he stands assuredly amongst the masters.
General release from 2 Nov (London) and 16 Nov (nationwide).