The Master (15)
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Jesse Plemons, Ambyr Childers, Laura Dern.
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson.
Running time: 143 mins
If art is judged on its ability to provoke debate, then Paul Thomas Anderson makes great art.
With The Master, Anderson has incurred the wrath of the Church of Scientology, which has campaigned vociferously against this emotionally wrought tale of a cult leader welcoming a new recruit into the fold.
What follows is an overlong demonstration of virtuoso film-making that is by turns dazzling and boorishly pretentious.
Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is the figurehead of a burgeoning philosophical movement known as The Cause.
His followers grow in number in drawing rooms across America and Lancaster is delighted to welcome alcoholic war veteran Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) into the fold, despite the warnings of his wife Peggy (Amy Adams).
Peggy recognises Freddie as a damaged and emotionally volatile soul. However, that primal rage which percolates inside Freddie proves useful for Lancaster as he encounters resistance and even scorn from his own son (Jesse Plemons).
The Master is distinguished by its performances. Phoenix’s unswerving commitment to his role is undeniable.
At times, he drifts through scenes in a drowsy stupor, incomprehension flickering in his eyes as he searches for salvation.
In other scenes, rage explodes, most notably in a police cell when he repeatedly slams his naked shoulders against the cast iron frame of a bed frame with enough force not just to split skin but to fracture bone as well.
Hoffman is charismatic as the leader, shepherding his flock until a non-believer dares to question his vision and punctures the bubble of superiority that envelops him.
Adams will also be vying for Oscar consideration for her steely supporting performance.
Anderson’s film is easy to admire for its ambition and directorial verve, but hard to worship for the protracted sequences of pointlessness that test patience.