Director Paul Thomas Anderson makes epic films as if they were small personal tales, and he makes small personal tales as if they were epics.
Anderson’s next most famous film, again arguably, is “There Will Be Blood” (2007) the story of miner-turned-oilman Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) as he attempts to rule the oil markets of the west.
“There Will Be Blood” is a single-story drive film that looks like “How The West Was Won,” but is closer to, say, Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” (1976), a lone man driven to extremes by his obsessions.
Either way, Anderson’s films give audiences something special, but always on his terms.
Anderson’s latest film, “The Master” (2012), is closer to “There Will Be Blood” but in a seemingly cloistered way.
Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a World War II U.S. Navy veteran struggling to adjust to a post-war society. Quell meets Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), a confident man of letters and the founder of a new religious movement known as “The Cause.”
Quell joins and becomes a confidante of Dodd. Quell’s problems — booze and sex addiction — make his full embrace of “The Cause” problematic.
Quell also is welcomed and then scorned by Dodd’s wife, Peggy (Amy Adams).
Anderson based the film on the origins of Scientology, particularly its predecessor “Dianetics” and its author L. Ron Hubbard. “The Master” also is based on the life of novelist John Steinbeck and drinking stories actor Jason Robards told Anderson about Robards’ days in the U.S. Navy.
“The Master” is a character study of Quell and his attempts to make sense of his life.
“The Master” works with an atmospheric approach to its subject, and it employs long, slow camera work.
There are no easy answers in “The Master,” but that’s kind of the point — there are no easy answers in life or in religion.
The life you lead is not always going to be easy, if it ever truly is for some of us.
Even the serenity religion can give one is hard-fought.
The performances are amazing. Phoenix, Hoffman and Adams all received Academy Award nominations for “The Master.”
Hoffman shows he is one of the most versatile actors working today.
Adams’ performance can be compared to an iron fist in a velvet glove. She shows Peggy to be the true driving force behind “The Cause.”
Phoenix is the best actor at depicting ne’er-do-wells working this side of the Dead End Kids. He makes you root for Quell even though you know it’s a lot like rooting for the Chicago Cubs. … It’s going to end up breaking your heart.
“The Master” is Anderson’s best work. He seems less interested in telling a full and complete story, but oddly that also is one of the virtues of “The Master.”
But even when Anderson doesn’t make a great film, they are still great to watch.
“Lost & Found” is a weekly column and review of films the author Seames O’Grady, self-professed movie expert, has in his DVD collection or on his Netflix queue, but just hasn’t got around to watching until now.