I saw The Master at the cinema today. Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film, which stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams. The story centres around the relationship between Phoenix's traumatised ex-marine, Freddy, and Hoffman's cult leader, Lancaster Dodd. Freddy comes to Dodd by chance after fleeing a previous job in which he inadvertently poisons an elderly man with his home-made booze. And here, on board a boat where Dodd serves as minister during his son's wedding, is where Dodd and Freddie begin to form their relationship -- one of master and pupil, but, equally, commander and soldier, or master and slave. Dodd recognising something in Freddie and, as he takes his teaching from state-to-state, takes the volatile, juvenile and sexually obsessed Freddie under his wing.
Both Phoenix and Hoffman are sensational here. Phoenix's Freddie is like a twisted spring that still has some coil and a sharp end. Physically, and emotionally, this is one of 2012's best performances, and a career-best from Phoenix, whose intensity, hunched body and deep eyes are engrossing and fascinating in equal measure. Hoffman is more imposing, standing tall, performing without giving a performance, appearing to relish playing this quandary of a man, who can allure and seduce with a gentility that makes his venomous outbursts and an occasionally dropped facade all the more startling. This is also one Hoffman's best performances, and one for the ages, which is punctuated by the calm and resolute nature of his wife, Peggy, who is played splendidly by Amy Adams. Comforting and guiding Dodd, there are shades of a Eleanor Shaw Iselin here, as Peggy plays the prim and proper wife in public, but pulls strings and manipulates in private, her mechanisms turning the wheels of Lancaster's public persona. It's a subtle, very wonderful performance that Adams gives here.
With regards to Anderson, his writing and direction remain consistently of the highest standard. His framing, shot composition and ability to make the camera a living, breathing entity next to his characters, and within the story, establish a true sense of place and time. Furthermore, Mihai Malaimare, Jr.'s cinematography is stellar, creating sumptuous, canvas-like visuals on which Anderson paints under Jonny Greenwood's distinct score. Expect considerable attention come awards season.