The Master starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams is a character study of a drifter after World War II. All three actors give superb performances which could result in many award nominations.
The story revolves around Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Freddie Quell, a social misfit and alcoholic trying to adjust after the war and suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome. In a drunken stupor, he goes aboard a yacht one night and crawls into a berth to sleep while everyone is partying on the deck above. Here he meets Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman) leader of a quasi religious and philosophical movement known as The Cause.
Dodd decides to keep the stowaway because he likes him and because he enjoys his stash of homemade booze. He welcomes Freddy into the movement and subjects him to a series of exercises known as Processing during which Freddy must undergo psychological questioning and various other exercises.
Freddie, the constant misfit, responds to any negative criticism about himself, Dodd or the movement with physical fights. A key scene in the movie is when Freddie confronts Dodd’s son Val, played by Jesse Plemons (Landry from Friday Night Lights), for lack of enthusiasm over his father’s teachings. Dodd’s son responds by saying his father is a fraud and is making up his teachings as he goes along.
There has been a lot of buzz about this movie since its inception due to its comparisons to Scientology. However, it is neither a biography of L. Ron Hubbard nor a documentary of Scientology. There are many comparisons between L. Ron Hubbard and Lancaster Dodd including their physical appearance, Navy background, and charismatic personality; but, writer/director and producer Paul Thomas Anderson said he also included deleted scenes from There Will Be Blood, tales of Jason Robards’ Navy days, and stories of the life of John Steinbeck.
What this movie is, is a study in mind control and the clash of strong personalities. We see the inner workings of a cult and how people can be broken down and remolded into a follower of a strong personality who promises them love and acceptance.
Lancaster Dodd’s wife (Amy Adams) doesn’t have as much screen time as the other two main characters but we know she is a powerful character behind the scenes. You might say she is a strong passive/aggressive person.
This movie is not what I expected and is a little dark at times. I should have known it is not a typical Hollywood movie since it is not playing at any of the many multiplexes around this big metropolitan area but can be found only at the single art-house movie theatre in the city.
The Master is powerful, informative, and well done and will probably produce many candidates for awards including best actor for Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The Master is not for everyone. Some scenes are dark and various people may find them questionable but the outstanding acting balances out the negatives of the movie. I give The Master a B+.