Kenneth Turan Reviews 'The Master'

Paul Thomas Anderson can be placed in the top tier of American film directors — on the reputation of films such as There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights, and his latest, The Master. Film critic Kenneth Turan has this review.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's hear about the latest film from the acclaimed director Paul Thomas Anderson who directed "There Will Be Blood" and "Boogie Nights." Critic Kenneth Turan has this review of "The Master."

KENNETH TURAN: "The Master" is intentionally opaque, as if its creator didn't want us to see all the way into its heart of darkness. It tells the story of a conflict between a man sure of himself and another who is not. That unsure man would be the tortured Freddie Quell, played by a ferocious Joaquin Phoenix.

We meet him in the closing days of World War II, a sailor getting hellaciously drunk. Phoenix, makes Quell frighteningly believable, even in his nervous exit interview with Navy personnel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE MASTER")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as Navy personnel) You put a knife to the throat of an officer.

JOAQUIN PHOENIX: (as Freddie Quell) Yeah. But we boxed it out.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as Navy personnel) And the episode you had on the way home, here.

PHOENIX: (as Freddie Quell) Oh. I don't remember an episode.

TURAN: The confident man is Lancaster Dodd, charismatically played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. He's The Master, the magnetic leader of a new human potential movement. He claims he's found a way to return man to his inherent state of perfection.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE MASTER")

PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN: (as Lancaster Dodd) I am a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist, a theoretical philosopher, but above all I am a man just like you. Are you thoughtless in your remarks? Do your past failures bother you? You do like the struggle.

TURAN: There are plenty of parallels between Dodd and his movement, known as The Cause, and L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. But "The Master" is not some kind of muckraking expose. Anderson's script is more inspired by Scientology than any kind of literal representation.

"The Master" is a moody, disturbing film about personality, obsession and delusion. It deals with the will to power of people like Lancaster Dodd, the parallel need of others to be mastered, and what happens when those wires get crossed.

Electric is a mild word for the formidable charge that passes between Dodd and Quell. It's disconcerting that this relationship gets murkier, not clearer, as time goes on, but we come to understand that this is perhaps the point.

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

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