November 27, 2014
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The Master
Don Fowler
2.5 stars
Reviewer's Rating:

(Unlikable cult characters)

"The Master" has been praised as one of the best movies of the year by many critics. I guess we missed something. We both found it very muddled, filled with unlikable characters and with a story that left us hanging.

Not that Phillip Seymour Hoffman isn't great as Lancaster Dodd, the cult "master" modeled after Scientology writer/preacher L. Ron Hubbard.

Much of our problem with the movie centered not around the title character but the role of Joaquin Phoenix as the drunken, violent, maladjusted seaman, Freddie Quell. Phoenix mumbles his way through the volatile role, creating a character that is not only unlikable but also unpredictable.

Violence and retaliation are his defense mechanisms, causing everyone except The Master to dislike him. Their relationship is the center of the over-long (two and a quarter-hour) journey.

In flashbacks, we learn of Freddie's difficult childhood, lost love and release from the Navy with serious mental problems. He becomes a stowaway on Dodd's yacht and Dodd immediately is taken to him, as a friend and a subject to be examined closely.

Amy Adams is excellent as Dodd's wife, who appears to have great control over him, an area that we wanted to see explored. We also wanted to see more about the tenets of Scientology, which are exposed through long tirades by Dodd but not fully explored.

Freddie is an uncontrollable drunk, who blindly follows the master until events lead to his questioning of his faith. Back and forth they go until the movie ends with nothing resolved.

Audience members will have to reach their own conclusions about Dodd and Scientology. We have ours. Tom Cruise has his.

Dodd's "processing" of his followers, many of whom are rich and heavy contributors to his cause, is often long and tedious, as is the movie.

One thing is for sure: "The Master" will draw many comparisons to Hubbard and Scientology as it initiates discussion. Once again, you'll see it going on following the movie in the Avon lobby.

Rated R, with profanity, nudity, violence, sex and adult discussions that younger folks will have trouble processing.


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