Cult hit!

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - MOVIES -

ES­PITE spec­u­la­tion its US re­lease was moved up a month to ex­ploit the head­lines sur­round­ing the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes di­vorce, The Master isn’t the Scien­tol­ogy ex­pose it was ru­moured to be.

In­stead, it’s a sharply writ­ten, un­for­get­tably di­rected char­ac­ter study with bril­liant per­for­mances by Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Sey­mour Hoff­man and Amy Adams – far more in­ti­mate but no less in­tense than di­rec­tor Paul Thomas An­der­son’s Os­car-win­ning last film, There Will Be Blood.

The Master will promi­nently fig­ure in this year’s Os­car race in a va­ri­ety of cat­e­gories, in­clud­ing Best Pic­ture.

To be sure, there’s much more than a pass­ing re­sem­blance be­tween Scien­tol­ogy founder L. Ron Hub­bard and his fic­tional film coun­ter­part, Hoff­man’s Lan­caster Dodd, the charis­matic leader of a self-help cult called The Cause.

In the early 1950s, Dodd and his dis­ci­ples ‘‘au­dit’’ re­cruits in a hyp­notic-like state to un­cover past trau­mas as an alternative to psy­chother­apy, much like in Scien­tol­ogy and its pre­de­ces­sor, Dia­net­ics.

Dodd is a self-styled ‘‘writer, doc­tor, nu­clear physi­cist and the­o­ret­i­cal philoso­pher’’ whose core tenets in­clude rein­car­na­tion, time travel and help­ing

Amy Adams and Joaquin Phoenix are bril­liant in free his fol­low­ers from their emo­tions. While scep­tics con­sider Dodd – or, as his fol­low­ers call him, The Master – a char­la­tan who preys on the wealthy and the gullible, he isn’t the film’s pri­mary fo­cus. That would be Fred­die Quell (Phoenix), a trou­bled fol­lower of The Master who be­comes a sur­ro­gate son and some­thing of a test case for Dodd’s the­o­ries about spir­i­tual re­birth.

A navy man (like Dodd) most com­fort­able at sea, Fred­die drifts through a drunken haze af­ter World War II ser­vice be­fore he winds up as a stow­away on a yacht on which Dodd is hold­ing his daugh­ter’s wed­ding en route from San Fran­cisco to New York via the Panama Canal.

As Hoff­man plays him, Dodd is a ge­nial, gen­er­ous and sin­cere fraud who takes on Fred­die as a dis­ci­ple de­spite the reser­va­tions of his preg­nant wife, Peggy (Adams), and son-in-law (Rami Malek).

De­spite his is­sues, Fred­die has enough street smarts to re­alise his bene­fac­tor is a phony ped­dling pseudo-re­li­gious twad­dle about man’s ‘‘in­her­ent state of per­fec­tion’’. At the same time, The Master is forced to ac­knowl­edge Fred­die, a loose can­non al­ways ready to go off, poses a threat to his move­ment.

The real fire­works, how­ever, are the ex­tra­or­di­nary per­for­mances of the film’s three leads. Phoenix does his best work ever as Fred­die, twist­ing his face and body into a gri­mace of pain, suf­fer­ing, anger and lewd thoughts.

Hoff­man’s Dodd pro­vides a Zen-like coun­ter­point, while Adams beau­ti­fully demon­strates the will of steel be­hind Mrs Dodd’s ex­te­rior em­pa­thy.

Some may be dis­ap­pointed that An­der­son does not more di­rectly con­front the many con­tro­ver­sies and scan­dals in­volv­ing Scien­tol­ogy and its prac­tices. Oth­ers may wish for a less enig­matic res­o­lu­tion of the wi­den­ing gulf be­tween The Master and Fred­die.

opens to­day.

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