Masterfully empty: Star-studded cast fizzles
Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" is fabulously well-acted and crafted, but when I reach for it, my hand closes on air. It has rich material and isn't clear what it thinks about it. It has two performances of Oscar caliber, but do they connect? Its title character is transparently inspired by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, but it sidesteps any firm vision of the cult religion itself — or what it grew into.
The Hubbard character, named Lancaster Dodd and played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, is indeed not even the film's most important. Top billing goes to an alcoholic adherent of The Master named Freddie Quell — played by Joaquin Phoenix, who in some ways seems to flow out of the bizarre persona he created during his meltdown, or whatever it was, two years ago.
This Freddie Quell has an unnatural and dangerous taste for booze... (FULL REVIEW)