When Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix), a former Navy seaman turned drifter, shows up as a castaway on the yacht that Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has rented for his daughter’s wedding, Lancaster doesn’t kick him off. Rather, he thinks he’s met Freddie in a previous life and treats him as a subject to study and possibly aid. The leader of a religious sect that loosely resembles Scientology, Lancaster, modeled on Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, subjects Freddie to a series of interviews in order to explain his often violent outbursts. While he realizes that Freddie is suffering from some kind of postwar trauma, he’s unable to reel him in, and the two engage in a constant battle of wills. That’s essentially the plot of the latest film by writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights), which opens areawide on Friday. While Phoenix and Hoffman are both terrific (the scenes in which they square off against each other are riveting), the film fails to deliver any kind of true climax, even as the tension between Freddie and Lancaster demands some kind of resolution. Setting aside the question of how much it references Scientology, the film is an interesting character study and a terrific vehicle for two powerhouse actors.
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