April Fool! A couple of years ago the world thought Joaquin Phoenix had slowly gone crazy. He grew a wild beard and declared himself through with acting, aiming to start a career as a rapper. Thankfully the whole episode was a stunt…an experiment for a documentary film featuring Phoenix called “I’m Still Here.” Now, with the release of “The Master,” Phoenix is not only still here but truly, and hopefully, here to stay!
Freddie Quell (Phoenix) is a sailor, serving his country during World War II. To say Freddie has problems is an understatement. Freddie loves women. So much so that one day, to relieve some pressure while on the beach, he builds and then sexually mounts a female shaped sand sculpture he helped build. Upon his discharge he drifts aimlessly between jobs, the only solace he seems to find is inside of any bottle that will have him. One night while wandering the docks he stows away on a yacht which is being used as a wedding chapel for the daughter of Mr. Lancaster Dodd. Dodd is an author and the founder of The Cause – kind of a thinking man’s belief system. His many years at sea taught Freddie how to take ordinary household chemicals and turn them into some first-grade hooch! Dodd (Hoffman in the film’s second great performance) takes a liking to Freddie, and his homemade liquor, and takes him under his wing. Soon each man will learn a lot not only about themselves but about each other.
A masterpiece of acting, “The Master” is sure to be in the front of the line when Academy Award nominations come out. Visually the film is a delight, with cinematographer Mihai Malaimair, Jr.and production designers Jack Fisk and David Crank vividly recreating the past of this country. As always, Anderson’s words and direction are both bold and memorable. But the reason to see this film is the leads. Hoffman and Phoenix put on a virtual clinic and are ably supported by Amy Adams, who plays Hoffman’s wife – the very strong woman behind the man.