It's been five years since writer, director Paul Thomas Anderson's last film, "There Will Be Blood." Now he's back with a new movie, "The Master."
Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a Navy veteran of WWII. When the war ends, he wanders aimlessly, getting fired from various jobs. This disturbed man is an alcoholic, overly fixated on sex and prone to violent episodes.
His life changes when he meets Lancaster Dodd, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Dodd, who's called "the Master" by his disciples, has controversial hypnotic techniques to treat people with mental problems. He talks at length about past lives and about mankind having been in the universe for a trillion years. He calls his methods and movement "The Cause."
Freddie, who's adrift, buys Dodd's message hook, line and sinker and the Master finds a willing guinea pig with Freddie. But not everyone, including Dodd's own son, are sold on his philosophies.
There are protesters who have said the film slams Scientology and it's founder, the late L. Ron Hubbard. But writer-director Anderson is coy on the subject. I believe the movie is a general look at cults and cult leaders.
Either way, I found the film itself to be very strange. For the first hour, I was interested and wanted to know where Anderson was going with this. Three-quarters of the way through, it was repetitive and I became bored. By the end, it became agonizingly drawn out and I couldn't wait for it to be over.
Phoenix is terrific and so is Hoffman. Amy Adams as Dodd's wife is just OK. The movie, which was shot in glorious 70 millimeter, was lushly filmed and is simply gorgeous to look at.
But ultimately, it's Anderson's story that's severely lacking, as this movie goes nowhere. It's just a bunch of ideas with no coherent arc. It wanders as much as Phoenix's character does. Maybe that's part of the point, but it doesn't make for engaging moviemaking.