There are few films with more buzz surrounding them this year than Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master – his first film since 2007′s cynical masterpiece There Will Be Blood. The rumors boiling online that it’s a fictionalized look at the origins of Scientology have fueled controversy – peaking when word spread that the church’s shit-eating poster boy Tom Cruise “has issues” with the film.
But the film is not an expose on Scientology and certainly not an attack on its sci-fi theology. Although nearly everyone in the film is a member of a blooming, controversial cult, PTA only uses Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard as a loose framework to stage his perplexing and brilliant character study set in post-World War II America. At this point, PTA’s grasp of cinematic expression is ridiculous. Every shot, every camera movement is sharp and profound. As with There Will Be Blood, The Master grips you by the balls before a single line of dialogue is spoken, which doesn’t happen until several minutes in. Once Joaquin Phoenix opens his mouth…game over, man.