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Movie of the Day: The Master

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What It Is: The Master depicts the friendship between a troubled WWII veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) and Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the charismatic leader of a quasi-cult known as The Cause. Loosely based on the early days of Scientology, Paul Thomas Anderson’s film offers a sincere examination of the psychology that drives followers into fringe religious communities and compels the leaders of such movements.

Why It’s Unique: The Master presents an alternative view of life in post-war America that moves beyond whitewashed “Greatest Generation” nostalgia. While inspired by Scientology, the film is more than a simple takedown of a corrupt cult, instead balancing empathy for the characters with an honest portrayal of their many flaws. Anderson’s trademark style combines a freewheeling improvisational approach to actors with a controlled technical mastery of shot composition, lighting, and sound. In addition to standout performances from Phoenix, Hoffman (one of his last), and Amy Adams, there are also compelling turns from rising actors like Rami Malek, Jesse Plemons, and Jillian Bell.

Who Made It: Considered the greatest director of his generation – sorry, Quentin – P. T. Anderson has dominated American independent and arthouse cinema for the last two decades. Though perhaps still best known for the 70’s porn masterpiece Boogie Nights, Anderson has done more than give us the most famous (prosthetic) dick pic in all of film history. His early oil industry epic There Will Be Blood was included among the best 25 films of the 21st century by the New York Times. Despite this acclaim, Anderson remains something of a director’s director, known to passionate film fans but still not a household name like Spielberg or Tarantino. None of his films, including this one, have ever earned more than $50 million at the domestic box office.

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