The Master (15, 143 mins) Drama Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Jesse Plemons, Ambyr Childers, Laura Dern. Director: Paul Thomas Anderson. Released: Friday November 16
If art is judged on its ability to provoke debate, then Paul Thomas Anderson makes great art.
From his eye-catching 1997 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.
The Master is distinguished by its performances.
Phoenix’s unswerving commitment to his role is undeniable.
At times, he drifts through scenes in a drowsy stupor, incomprehension flickering in his eyes as he searches for salvation.
In other scenes, rage explodes, most notably in a police cell when he repeatedly slams his naked shoulders against the cast iron frame of a bed frame with enough force not just to split skin but to fracture bone as well.
Hoffman is charismatic as the leader, who may or may not hold all of the answers, shepherding his flock until a non-believer dares to question his vision in front of his disciples and punctures the bubble of superiority that envelops him.
Adams will also be vying for Oscar consideration for her steely supporting performance as the power behind the throne.
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 our patience far beyond breaking point.
n Swearing, No Sex, Violence n Rating: 6/10