Nothing in Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master matches the freakish intensity of the milkshake moment at the end of There Will Be Blood, but here's another strange, affecting character study whose quivers come off from the acting: Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix holding court, while Amy Adams, gentle yet febrile, lighting a fire of neurosis and mystery from the fringe.
Soul searching: Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell in The Master .
Like Anderson's Magnolia, with Tom Cruise as a cultish leader, and like There Will Be Blood, with its dual-core magnetism of the master-disciple death match led by Daniel Day-Lewis, the new film is a sombre showcase of American soul in a baptism of fire, with salvation on offer but never realised. That the character played by Hoffman is based on the founder of Scientology is much cited, but that's hardly the point (especially to us here) because the real focus is the man played by Phoenix, a World War II wreck who wanders the country like a cadaver looking for his own grave. Or for a rebirth, which probably amounts to the same thing anyway.
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