Masterful, brilliant performances imbue this torturous saga of self-discovery; a struggle to chastise demons, doubts, destroying one’s mental, psychological, physical path to health and inner peace.
Joaquin Phoenix, in a role, likely never to be repeated, is “Freddie Quell” suffering from post- traumatic –stress -disorder, largely undiagnosed after World War II; a veteran of the Pacific front, he is a misfit, volatile, alcoholic, working as a department store photographer in 1950. Phoenix in his every gesture, smile, walk is frightening, illuminating in depicting Freddie’s paranoia and combustibility; he shrinks, getting thinner, skeletal as as his psychosis deepens throughout the film.
Philip Seymour Hoffman’s genius portrayal as “The Master” “Lancaster Dodd” is incredulous. From the moment he meets “Freddie” who in a drunken stupor, has stowed away on a boat taking Dodd’s family to New York; his hypnotic powers are electrifying, captivating; he cultivates the relationship with insouciant charm and a will of steel. Freddie and “The Master” develop a bond that is more than Svengali and protégée, it is a pairing that feeds off each other; a yin and yang so addictive that ideology cannot cure the craving. Unforgettable scene, of exorcism proportions has Freddie, with eyes closed, going back and forth from wall to window, describing what he feels; Dodd orchestrates the endless, painful cleansing until Freddie and the audience scream “enough”.
Dodd is master of “The Cause”, leading with a messianic drive and hypnosis, a core of dedicated disciples (vaguely referencing Scientology), who find meaning by time -travel, sometimes receding thousands of years, to unearth the “self” buried under layers of obfuscation. Dodd is mesmerizing, irresistible, his lectures a divine combination of levity, laughter and wisdom. Whether a charlatan or genuine there is no denying his craftsmanship.
Amy Adams gives a chilling performance as Peggy Dodd (most likely the third wife); she will suffer no indiscretions and her gentleness masks a woman of substance and power.
Emotionally pulverizing this is not a film for those looking for escape from the trauma of everyday life. Director Paul Thomas Anderson bulldozes boundaries and gifts viewers two memorable characters; flawed, human, ultimately imprisoned in their own minds, wills.
THREE STARS & 1/2 STARS!!!