Critic’s Pick: ‘The Master’ is simply masterful

Joaquin Phoenix stars in Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" as a troubled veteran who enters the inner circle of a cult-like group's guru.
(Weinstein Co.)

“The Master” proves an ideal forum for themes that have haunted the work of writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson. The redeeming and destructive power of religious fervor and man’s desire to bend others to his will usually find their way into Anderson’s films. The roots were certainly exposed in the visceral “There Will Be Blood,” with its power-mad oilman and his fire-and-brimstone nemesis. But in “The Master,” the filmmaker gets to the heart of the matter. With stirring performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman as the head of the Scientology-like cult the Cause, Amy Adams as his zealot wife and Joaquin Phoenix as the conflicted acolyte, “The Master” is ultimately a story of self-love and self-hate taken to extremes. That the film, and the filmmaking, is exceptional doesn’t mean it is easy to embrace. With so much human frailty unearthed and exposed, more likely it will leave you unsettled but enriched.