Finishing his tour of duty with the Navy, Freddie Quell is lost and struggling through numerous effects of war. Drifting from alcohol-induced breakdowns and evenutally landing on a boat, he is found by a kind man by the name of Lancaster Dodd. After getting invited to Lancaster’s son’s wedding, Freddie chooses to stay with him to learn more about his teachings. Lancaster, leader of a movement known as The Cause, promotes the belief that spirits span more than mere generations and that people can be connected to numerous past lives. The rest of The Cause worries that Freddie’s erratic behavior could be detrimental to the group, but Lancaster insists that he remain part of the movement and return to his exercises to reduce his anger. When the anger does not subside, a sudden outburst causes a rift between Freddie and The Cause.
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix (Freddie Quell), Amy Ferguson (Martha), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Lancaster Dodd), Amy Adams (Peggy Dodd), Jesse Plemons (Val Dodd), Amber Childers (Elizabeth Dodd), Joshua Close (Wayne Gregory), Jillian Bell (Susan Gregory), Laura Dern (Helen Sullivan), Martin Dew (Norman Conrad), Jennifer Neala Page (Winn Manchester)
Bringing a level of intensity unmatched by any other in this film, Joaquin Phoenix outshines his peers every time he breaks into an outburst or shot of rage. Drifting almost uncontrollably, he keeps the audience guessing with when he will snap and when he will find control. Hoffman projects a sort of regal-ness in his command of the group and belief in his cause. Amy Adams has a different level of intensity which follows more of a sense of commitment to her husband’s mission and protecting the group. The rest of the cast plays their parts well but it is clearly a film focused on the three main characters.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s feature took a struggling veteran and guided him toward a group to find meaning, purpose and a sense of control. Freddie struggled with the experiences of the war and finding himself outside of his service. Turning to alcohol, he maintained a position as a photographer for a while, but eventually outgrew the minimal excitement of the job. Finding The Cause gave him something to connect to and he felt connected to its charismatic leader. While it could be argued to what degree Lancaster believed the message he projected, The Cause pressed forward with a message of connectedness and finding serenity. As Peggy highlighted, one could only either fully commit to The Cause or would damage the effort. In the end, Freddie’s varied commitment challenged both his friendship with Lancaster and his continuation with the group.
The film focused on two significant issues: PTSD and cult behavior. War is an ugly thing, but it appeared to take a significant toll on Freddie. While the film did not show much of what he had to go through, it did show that he developed a number of problems at the end of his tour of duty and they carried over into his violent behavior and alcoholism. The Cause seemed to be an attempt to give him focus and calmness but failed to ever get at the core of his issues. Instead, it aggravated him into some aggressive, uncontrolled outbursts against people who challenged The Cause. This philosophical movement was also an interesting one in the way Lancaster had to have an outburst or two of his own in defense of the changing message of the connectedness of things. Using hypnosis-like methods and repetition, he was able to get people to believe messages but still experienced some opposition. In the end, it was unclear how successful his movement was, but it seemed to get its share of followers.
The Master has a lot to be proud of in its acting talent, but it did seem to miss a little on the story. Some of the methods used by The Cause failed to add to the flow of the story and just promoted the individual characters. The lack of focus may have hurt its efforts with the Academy, but Hoffman, Adams and Phoenix deserve credit for their performances.
Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5