P.T. Anderson returns from a 5 year hiatus and is beginning to emerge into the next Terence Malick.
Set in 1950, alcoholic World War II veteran and sufferer of PTSD, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is having trouble adjusting to a normal life. After a series of menial jobs that he cannot adjust to, he drunkenly staggers onto a yacht occupied by Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and his wife Peggy (Amy Adams).
Lancaster takes a liking to Freddie after a series of psychological questions which Lancaster describes as "Processing", he makes Freddie his protege within his movement called: The Cause. Lancaster and his followers continue to spread the word of The Cause with Freddie in tow, but Freddie's alcoholic and violent behavior draw the ire of certain member of The Cause; Peggy included.
Eventually Freddie's frustration within The Cause, which he struggles to believe in, and Lancaster's charismatic personality clash over how to deal with and spread The Cause.
A lot has been made as to whether this film is an attack on Scientology. P.T. Anderson has already stated that Scientology inspired The Cause in this film. There are obvious similarities between Scientology and The Cause including the type of leader and the beliefs between both religions. This should not be the major point to see this film, though, as not one word is spoken about Scientology itself.
The reason I feel this is P.T. Anderson becoming Terence Malick is that this film really lacks any semblance of a plot. The film is pushed forward initially by Freddie joining and viewing The Cause, then by Lancaster Dodd who battles with members of The Cause over whether Freddie is helping or hindering their plan. That is really all there is for a plot, besides that, the film focuses on scenery and the performances.
Speaking of the performances, there should be no doubt that Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman will get nominated for an Academy Award. Joaquin's Freddie Quell has the more showy role. His face shows wear and his walk showcases pain. Freddie has frequent violent outbursts and Joaquin goes full bore into this role.
On the other hand, you have the more nuanced, and in my opinion, better performance, by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Lancaster Dodd is very subtle, and very controlling of his followers of The Cause. There is a scene about halfway into the film where Lancaster is challenged by an outsider about his beliefs. This is an amazing scene and shows all you need to know about his character. He is stoic, charismatic and persuasive, but also has flaws and when he is pushed, cracks in his foundation show. An amazing scene and a really good performance.
This is a film all about performances and has nothing in a way to do with story. As that is, the acting is some of the best of the year along with some gorgeous cinematography and P.T. Anderson does a great job directing all the actors. This is a really well-made character piece that is very light on story.