When Dylan sang You’re gonna have to serve somebody, he only put up two options the Devil or the Lord but Paul Thomas Anderson’s newest film tenders a third: Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), a writer and quasi-spiritualist known to his followers as the Master. Freddie Quell (Phoenix), a World War II vet with frayed nerves, eventually finds himself among Dodd’s flock, but first we meet him at the tail end of the war. Freddie, a sailor, skulks around a Pacific island like a sex-obsessed monkey wearing the haunted sneer of post-car-crash Montgomery Clift. He hangs around the edges of groups and takes jokes too far a gag humping a sand-castle dame first elicits laughs, then uncomfortable shrugs when Freddie becomes aroused and he grows even more unhinged during peacetime, a drifter and a drunk with rage coursing in his veins. It’s a toss-up as to what Freddie requires most a master, a sponsor, or a shrink and Dodd vacillates between all these roles when he takes Freddie on as a pet cause.
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