Popcorn Picks: The Master

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Genre: Drama

Choice Quote: Adams: This is something you do for a billion years or not at all. This isn’t fashion.

What’s it about?: At the conclusion of the Second World War, troubled Navy vet Freddie Quell (Phoenix) finds it near impossible to return to the normality of everyday life. Prone to violent outbursts and with a penchant for mixing his own toxic brand of homemade booze, he winds up a stowaway on a boat commissioned by “religious leader” Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman). Dodd and the followers of his “Cause” take Quell in as an effort to rehabilitate him in their image, though his presence often serves to create havoc while highlighting the struggles some of Dodd’s closest followers have with his “faith.”

Is it any good? The Master is a brilliant meditation on both the effects of war and faith on the human psyche, as well as the very human need to simply belong. Phoenix puts in an Oscar-worthy performance that, in some ways, recalls Randle McMurphy of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He’s dysfunctional, troubled, though at times the only honest soul in an otherwise insincere, hypnotic world. Hoffman’s turn as the “Master” proves terrifying in his gentle, deluded, confident way. He embodies the role of the cult leader with such staunch assurance that you may never look at him as Lester Bangs or Truman Capote again.

Amy Adams does a great job as Dodd’s much younger, pregnant wife who struggles with the constant attacks her husband faces from critics, and the rest of the supporting cast play their roles well.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s script is his best yet, eclipsing his acclaimed 1999 drama Magnolia. There’s a certain grit to these characters and their stories  – an authenticity that captures you from the moment you meet Quell on the beach and which only relents when the credits role. The directing, costumes, sets and cinematography only serve to enhance the tremendous performances.

This film is a showdown between two of the great actors of their generation. Thankfully, Anderson gets out of their way and gives them and the supporting cast lots of room to run with their characters. And run they do, leaving you hanging on their every step.

Can I bring my grandkids to see it? Whether it’s the rampant nudity, the frank sexual discussions or the unfiltered foul language, you’ll find something about this film you don’t want to expose the young ones to.

See it in theatres or rent it? Theatres.

Overall Popcorn Rating: 5 kernels (out of 5)

The Master opens Friday, Sept. 21. 

-Mike Crisolago