The Master, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, is a beautifully shot, well-acted film that doesn't quite come together as a satisfying whole. Joaquin Phoenix stars as a troubled, alcoholic WWII veteran--established thoroughly in the first half-hour or so, and continually after that--who finds a path with Philip Seymour-Hoffman's Cause, a pseudo-religious set of beliefs that promise him direction and, well, cause.
The two meet rather by accident, but during their time together come to an understanding, as Phoenix becomes more and more integral not only to Seymour-Hoffman's cause but to his life. The Cause, which is definitely nothing like Scientology at all, is written off by some as a cult, while others dedicate their lives to furthering its teachings. When Phoenix first comes across it, he, like the audience, is unsure how to respond. As he becomes closer to its leader, he becomes closer to its philosophy and beliefs.
The tender, complex relationship that forms between the two men is the real heart of the film. Others don't understand. They try to publically disgrace The Cause or put a wrench between Phoenix and Seymour-Hoffman, but while it's obvious that the former truly needs the latter, the latter's need turns out to be just as strong.
The performances are uniformly excellent, creating complete (if bizarre) three-dimensional characters whose motivations, passions, and concerns all build naturally.
The more that I write about this film, the more I process it; the more I process it, the more I like it. I am not sure what to make of the film's ending--in fact, of its whole last half-hour or so--but it is definitely a film that leaves the theater with you. I can't help but feel that a lot of this film wound up on the cutting room floor. It's not just that the trailer publicizes scenes that don't exist; it's more that the story seems so rich but so incomplete.
Ultimately, The Master is a film you're sure to remember--though you may love it, hate it, or just question it. The film is unlikely to work for everyone, but for some it will likely have a huge impact. Just like The Cause.