|Anderson's odd couple.|
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Produced by Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Ellison, Daniel Lupi, and Joanne Stellar
Written by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Laura Dern
**** (Original rating: ***1/2)
Celebrated auteur Paul Thomas Anderson returns after a five-year absence with a controversial, polarizing film dealing with aspects of the founding of scientology. At the center of this drama are seaman Freddie Quell (Phoenix) and philosopher Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman). The men are two sides of the same coin - Quell irrational and violent, Dodd peaceful and charismatic. As two opposing forces, they're naturally drawn towards each other, despite their different personalities. Dodd takes it upon himself to help Quell, indoctrinating him into his group of followers. Quell is welcomed by Dodd's wife (Adams) and family, but the pressures placed on him under Dodd's peculiar methods are extremely taxing. At the end of their long journey, they must try to reconcile their differences as men and as human beings.
Phoenix and Hoffman are superb in their challenging roles, with the former unleashing his tempestuous emotions and the latter charming his followers to the very end. Though each role could induce the performer into a caricature, the seasoned actors know exactly how to play their uneven characters. The other performances, including Adams', are good, but the focus is on the men here. Of course, these performances hinge on Anderson's writing, which provides a lot to discuss and even more to discover in additional viewings. It is not lacking in food for thought, but the compelling ideas, such as the duality of man and the societal role of religion, cannot hide the frustrating, wandering plot. The film is directed brilliantly by Anderson, and the technicals are first rate. And Jonny Greenwood's score is very special indeed. Still, something in the film's construction is lacking, so that it ends up being more interesting to deconstruct than actually sit through. It may be intellectual, well-acted, and carefully assembled, but the pieces to the puzzle just don't fit as well as they could. While the film is really good, it isn't quite on par with Anderson's previous work.
Oscar Potential: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Phoenix), Best Supporting Actor (Hoffman), Best Supporting Actress (Adams), Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score