You won’t find two performances as unique and commanding as those given by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman in ‘The Master’. Phoenix attacks his role with a barely contained, agitated physicality that’s oftentimes downright uncomfortable to experience, and Hoffman ably embodies the conflicting attributes of a self-proclaimed prophet (particularly in his astounding voice work) – strength, buoyancy and compassion tempered by occasional bouts of tremulous doubt and aggression.
The film is a bit of an oddity – supremely accomplished in many areas, especially in the performances and the sublime evocation of the time period, but nevertheless lacking the sure-footed confidence and definition of Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous film ‘There Will Be Blood’.
For both better and worse, ‘The Master’ reflects the tone of its two lead characters – as fascinating and enigmatic as Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd, and as unformed and aimless as Pheonix’s Freddy Quell. It’s a movie about the need for connection that fails to fully connect.