An enigmatic, intensive chamber drama shot in dazzling 70mm, Paul Thomas Anderson's follow-up to his game-changing There Will Be Blood mixes a film à clef about Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard with Anderson's characteristically complex, borderline inscrutable form of character study. Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a troubled WWII vet with a talent for making moonshine, a penchant for getting into fistfights, and a chronically unsated appetite for sex. Crashing on a well-appointed yacht after a drunken escapade, Freddie meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the leader of a new spiritual/self-help movement called "The Cause." Taking a shine to both Freddie's high-octane hooch and his psychological peculiarities, Dodd brings the "aberrated" veteran into the movement's inner circle — but Dodd's iron-willed wife (Amy Adams) and other high-ranking members of The Cause soon grow fearful of the new recruit's volatility. Moving beyond a relatively easy indictment of a manmade religion, Anderson's most mysterious film invites us to ponder whether we can ever really be our own master.
Adam Nayman is an author, critic, and lecturer based in Toronto. He writes about film for Cinema Scope and The Ringer, reviews books for Quill and Quire, and was a staff writer for season one of The Vice Guide to Film. He regularly teaches undergraduate courses at the University of Toronto and Ryerson and has written two books: It Doesn't Suck: Showgirls and Confusion and Carnage: Ben Wheatley.http://tiff.net