Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master isn’t really a film centered on the Scientology-inspired cult, “The Cause,” but rather about one wayward, uncontrollable man’s journey through life. It presents one lengthy chapter in the life of Freddie Quell, played to the utmost perfection by Joaquin Phoenix. He’s been searching for a reason to live, searching for something to do with his life now that the second World War is over.
After his own personal liquor mix kills an old man at the farm he is working at Freddie runs and finds himself on the boat owned by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). It turns out that Dodd is the leader of “The Cause” and has several followers, including his young second wife Peggy (Amy Adams). Freddie finds a job and Dodd, referred to as “The Master” by his followers, takes him on as his protege. Despite the worries of Peggy and others, Dodd tries to reform Freddie. But it ultimately doesn’t work. Even Dodd can’t tame the restlessness in Freddie.
Freddie wants to believe that he is making the decisions in his life, even as he searches for some stability. Phoenix’s performance is simply sublime. He just embodies the character so perfectly, in ever move and in ever hunched over gesture. Anderson has a knack for getting chilling performances out of his central actors and it is no different with Phoenix in The Master.
Amy Adams’ performance is definitely overshadowed by Hoffman and Phoenix, but she needs to win Best Supporting Actress or at least an Oscar nomination. There’s also a surprising turn from Laura Dern, who gets this one fantastic moment where her character confronts Dobbs about a new philosophy in his second book.
Essentially, The Master is one of the best films I’ve seen in this young decade. It may not be as outrageous as There Will Be Blood, Anderson’s last film, but it doesn’t need to be. Anderson’s gripping screenplay and the acting by Hoffman and Phoenix seal the deal. I simply can’t wait for the home video release to see this again.