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Real City Matters

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The Master

All hail Paul Thomas Anderson's latest feat of American mythmaking.

DIRECTED BY PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON

Featuring a gorgeous 65mm evocation of mid-century America, a novelistic screenplay that is at once epic and intimate, and twin tour de force turns from Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Thomas Anderson’s spellbinding The Master is a titanic filmmaking achievement.

In a career-best performance, Phoenix plays animalistic, alcoholic Second World War veteran Freddie Quell, a man both psychologically and physically adrift following his return to civilian life. On the lam after his latest hooch-fuelled indiscretion, fate brings him face-to-face with Lancaster Dodd, Hoffman’s effusively charismatic L. Ron Hubbard stand-in. Dodd immediately pegs Freddie for a scoundrel, but nonetheless takes him under his wing, viewing him as an apt test subject for the rehabilitative powers of his fledgling religion (plainly inspired by Scientology).

Anderson eschews a specific assessment of the movement’s merits—The Master’s insights into the dynamics of devotion are applicable to all faiths—and focuses instead on the fascinating bond that forms between Hoffman’s mesmeric Svengali and his incorrigible, tortured disciple. Both actors, in turn, tear into their richly conceived roles with awe-inspiring vigor. Phoenix is an erratic marvel of frayed nerves and coiled physicality, while Hoffman’s eponymous Master is ferociously intelligent, intriguingly nuanced, and instantly iconic—much like the film itself.

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