Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman in the title role, is a stunning, must-see movie.
Hoffman and his co-star Joaquin Phoenix vie onscreen for our attention and implicitly offscreen for accolades—although their respective roles allow for Phoenix to reach the greatest heights.
Hoffman plays Lancaster Dodd—leader of a cult obviously inspired by the Church of Scientology and its Post-World War II founding by L(affayette) Ron Hubbard. Dodd is advancing the cause promoted by street distribution of literature offering “free processing” toward enlightenment. But Dodd is simply making it all up as he goes, Dodd’s son confides to initiate Freddie Quell (Phoenix).
Freddie has been rescued by Dodd from a purposeless, boozing existence and transformed into Dodd’s lieutenant—and occasional enforcer. His instability and violent outbursts (especially his astonishing jail-cell-destroying scene that could virtually alone win him an Oscar nomination) keep reviewers at uncomfortable attention throughout the movie.
What little enlightenment Freddie finally achieves leads him on a quest of his own and to ultimate disengagement from the Master. As he becomes something of his own Master, albeit largely imitatively, he leads us out of the movie and into some profitable questioning of our own.
Rating: Three and a half wooden nickels (out of four)