Posts Tagged ‘Amy Adams’

8th December
written by Mad Cow

Rated: R for sexual content, graphic nudity and language

Mad cow’s rating:

Not for everyone, this movie, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will be Blood, Magnolia, Boogie Nights), is brilliant. Just don’t expect it to have hard edges or a straight path or to lead you to a conclusion. Based loosely on the life of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, it’s a character study of not one but two men.

Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a disturbed veteran of the WWII who was likely disturbed when he got into the war. Now he suffers post traumatic stress disorder and a proclivity for strange concoctions of alcohol, including that found in household cleaners. We sympathize with him as he drifts about, trying to cope with confusion interspersed with outbursts of anger and psychotic behaviors that put him in danger. Just when we are about to give up (and perhaps leave the theater), he meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who describes himself as a “writer, nuclear physicist and a theoretical philosopher.”

Dodd, leader of a cult called The Cause, takes to Freddie and tries to help him with indoctrination into the therapy he invented, consisting of  various combinations of questions, repetitive talking exercises, and past life regressions. In turn, Freddie introduces Dodd to some of his ad hoc alcoholic drinks. Freddie is won over and so is Dodd.

It’s clear that Dodd is a quack but at the same time we can see why he has a following. Some of what he does helps people and he has enormous charisma. His wife Peggy (expertly played by Amy Adams)  is his most staunch, rather ridid, supporter and a sort of assistant practitioner. He’s had many wives previous to her, and perhaps this is her way of holding on to him. Yet the clench of her jaw when he is criticized seems real enough, as is Freddie’s inclination to beat up anyone who questions Dodd.

Phoenix’s performance as a broken man is brilliant. His screwed-up face, his gait, and the way he has of moving his body when he walks suggests someone who is profoundly uncomfortable, self-conscious and deeply pained. From time to time Freddie “cleans up” with an ever-so-slight change in his mouth and clarity to his eyes and we think he is cured. But we are afraid of him too, as is Peggy. His intensity is palpable.

Dodd gives as good as he gets, with a commanding demeanor even in the face of the police and his detractors, all the while catering to wealthy patrons and maybe doing some larceny on the side. He is amused by Freddie and attached to him. The brilliance of the filmmaking is that we have to decide how and why they are who they are and why they are drawn to each other. It’s likely that they are in love but Anderson respects us viewers to figure things out for ourselves.

We’ll see these guys at the Oscars.

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