Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on March 2013
Philip Seymour Hoffman excels, as usual, in the title role of charlatan and cult founder Lancaster Dodd. The character is clearly inspired by L. Ron Hubbard, but any connection to him or Scientology is mostly incidental; this is no expose. Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia; There Will Be Blood) uses these similarities as a means to an end, but opts to approach his condemnation of cultism (and maybe all religion) through the character of a drunk, shell-shocked WWII vet, played fiercely by Joaquin Phoenix, whom Dodd sees as a promising disciple, but who ultimately proves immune to his charisma and “processing.” Both actors, as well as Amy Adams as Dodd’s avid, frankly creepy wife, received Oscar noms for their work here. The film revolves around three or four intense one-on-one scenes between Hoffman and Phoenix, and these are among the best things the actors, as well as the director, have ever done. Some may find this deliberately jagged, intentionally unsettling, big-budget art film frustrating in its vagueness and hard to process. But it is never for a moment dull. Maybe it’ll become a cult fave.