IF art is judged on its ability to provoke debate, Paul Thomas Anderson makes great art.
From his portrait of the adult entertainment industry, Boogie Nights, to the bombast of There Will Be Blood, the Californian writer-director has consistently challenged us.
With The Master, Anderson has incurred the wrath of the Church of Scientology, which has campaigned vociferously against this emotionally-wrought tale of a cult leader welcoming a new recruit into the fold.
What follows is an overlong demonstration of virtuoso film-making that is by turns dazzling and boorishly pretentious. Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is the figurehead of a burgeoning philosophical movement known as The Cause.
His followers grow in number in drawing rooms across the US and Lancaster is delighted to welcome alcoholic war veteran Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) into the fold as “guinea pig and protege”, despite the warnings of his wife Peggy (Amy Adams).
She is the thrust behind her husband’s arguments. “We should attack,” she counsels. “If we don’t attack we will never dominate our environment the way we should.”
The Master is distinguished by its performances.
Phoenix’s unswerving commitment to his role is undeniable. And Hoffman is charismatic as the leader, until a non-believer dares to question his vision and punctures the bubble of superiority that envelops him.
Adams will also be vying for Oscar consideration for her steely supporting performance.
Anderson’s film is easy to admire for its ambition and directorial verve, but hard to worship for the protracted sequences of pointlessness that test patience beyond breaking point.