Opening 21 Feb 2013
This drama explores the relationship between a vagabond and the leader of a cult in the 1950s. Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) has recently been released from the army with PTSD and an alcohol problem. After failing at a couple of jobs, he hops on a yacht that is commanded by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Dodd and Freddie bond over Freddie’s home-made alcoholic brew containing paint thinner. Freddie is accepted into Dodd’s movement “The Cause” that is loosely based on the Scientology Church. For the next couple of years, Freddie and Dodd engage in a complex and tense relationship of master and disciple as well as father and son. But while the cult grows on the outside, it begins to crack on the inside with surfacing jealousies and insecurities involving Dodd’s wife (Amy Adams), daughter (Ambyr Childers) and son-in-law (Rami Malek). Confronted with the idea that one joins “The Cause” for billions of years or not at all, Freddie needs to make a choice: stay for good or leave forever.
This movie was almost quiet on the surface, but all the creepier underneath. It brilliantly showed how cults work with a complex mixture of solutions, abuse, deceptions and charisma. While the cult promotes to “set souls free”, Dodd later admits that no one he knows so far can live without a master, which in his case is his wife Peggy, extraordinarily played by Amy Adams. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s and Joaquin Phoenix’s performances are no less impressive making this a character-driven ***** star movie. (Katia Trost)
When WWII ends, US Navy battleships return stateside; after evaluating and diagnosing Freddy (Joaquin Phoenix) with PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) he is discharged. Moreover the opening sequence has made it absolutely clear this man has serious, psychological problems. In California and unable to hold down a job, Freddy sustains himself on hooch made out of anything he can lay his hands on. Inadvertently he lands aboard a ship; waking he finds it underway, and the sole passengers are a cult group on their way to New York City where they desperately hope to establish their validity with the moneyed elite there. Hence Freddy’s affiliation with Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) – the Master, his wife Peggy (Amy Adams), and the clan begins, and the film essentially ends. Like this writer’s story, some characters never evolve: monotony is the nemesis of this over two-hour movie.
Both Phoenix and Hoffman give brilliant performances – definitely Oscar© worthy – until you consider the minuscule scope of their characters’ personalities – the performances are more suitable for (very long) acting demo reels. Paul Thomas Anderson’s direction merely substantiates his lackluster screenplay: The rest of the cast gives the script their best. Most noteworthy therefore are the production values: David Crank and Jack Fisk’s production design, Amy Wells’ sets, and Mark Bridges’ costumes. Jonny Greenwood’s music is innovatively memorable, and the period songs evocative; Mihai Malaimare Jr.’s camera positioning – from below or at eye level – exudes nuances. There is nothing new here: Mind control has been around for too long, and this film is too overrated – wait until it comes out on DVD. (Marinell Haegelin)