Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. This film is troubling and enigmatic, with great acting jobs. The film is inspired by the early career of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. It tells the story of a damaged man played Joaquin Phoenix, who seeks healing from a charismatic fraud and finds what he is looking for.
The work of Paul Thomas Anderson’s has a fantastic trajectory and has touched upon several topics. “There Will Be Blood” was about entrepreneurial capitalism; “The Master” was about entrepreneurial religion, gimmicky philosophy. Dodd played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman is giving America a new vernacular belief, or rather self-belief, with a little of this and a little of that. Bits and pieces are taken from religion and pop science and science fiction, Quell, intoxicated by the Master's rhetoric, shows his own parallel genius for being the life and soul of the party by brewing up booze. Almost by magic, he can create fiendishly addictive hooch from fruit, bread, medicine drugs, anything. Dodd and Quell have a match made in sociopath heaven, and there is a kind of covert, erotic excitement in their association.
It is a difficult, challenging and, at times, opaque movie, which does not have the narrative of a conventional Hollywood product. Unconvinced audiences have praised the performances but complained about the lack of "story". It's an understandable reservation, but I think Anderson is offering something closer to a colossally ambitious portrait, or dual portrait which is difficult to achieve, a master cineaste like P.T. Anderson, in every film he is embarking on new territories in storytelling. We need to recognize Phoenix's painfully intense performance makes this in my criteria one on this year’s best.