There is perhaps no figure in American film more polarizing or fascinating than Paul Thomas Anderson. While some moviegoers dismiss his work as pretentious or unpleasant, others embrace it as a work of genius. The assured craftsmanship, searing performances and uncompromising audacity of his work made me an instant fan, yet it took me a few viewings for me to discover that his most recent film, 2007’s “There Will Be Blood,” deserves to be regarded as an American masterpiece–perhaps the best film of its decade. It was a chilling meditation on the ways in which oil, fanaticism and capitalist extremism threaten to corrode the American spirit. Anderson and his composer, Jonny Greenwood of “Radiohead,” paid brilliant homage to the Stanley Kubrick classics “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “The Shining,” by portraying their antihero’s downward spiral as “The Dawn of Man” in reverse.
Anderson’s new film, “The Master,” due out in U.S. theaters Oct. 12, promises to be no less timely and powerful. Unlike other filmmakers, who freely allow their work to be overexposed in spoiler-leaden teasers months before their release dates, Anderson finds marvelously enticing ways to promote his work without giving too much away. The two teasers released by the YouTube channel, “Al Rose Promotions,” on “The Master”‘s official site are completely mesmerizing precisely because they withhold plot details, opting instead to convey mood and tone. The first teaser, dubbed, “Was There a Fight?” finds a dazed and quietly unnerving Joaquin Phoenix getting interrogated by a grim officer. No filmmaker has mastered the art of the pathological laugh quite like Anderson (as evidenced in every picture from “Hard Eight” to “Blood”), and the nervous chortling that Phoenix elicits while failing to recall a violent episode from the recent past is truly creepy. After his botched experimentation with performance art (which led to his widely ignored mockumentary, “I’m Still Here”), it’s great to see Phoenix firing on all cylinders again.
The second trailer provides a first glimpse of Philip Seymour Hoffman as a “hopelessly inquisitive” man who finds himself drawn to Phoenix’s wayward drifter. We also spot Amy Adams as Hoffman’s wife, though we have yet to see any footage of co-star Laura Dern (by the way, the cinematography is by Mihai Malaimare Jr., who gorgeously lensed Coppola’s “Tetro”). According to the film’s mounting buzz, Hoffman’s character is modeled after L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. Since many of Anderson’s fellow Hollywood peers are vocal Scientologists, including Tom Cruise (who earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for PTA’s 1999 epic, “Magnolia”), this film is bound to inspire an avalanche of controversy, speculation and tireless analysis. How can cinephiles resist?