This is honestly a mastery of filmmaking, shot on 65mm you can not only see but feel details more than with standard film formatting. There’s framed shots and sceneries that look just amazing, the flat landscape with the motorbike, the field that Freddie runs across, the beach. I could go on, every shot looks beautiful and you can tell that they’ve been set up to be as perfect as possible. The movie itself may be dark but the cinematography is breathtaking. Credit to Mihai Malaimare Jr. for being a fabulous DOP on the film, he demonstrates a brilliant eye for style and substance.
Paul Thomas Anderson has a piece of art in this film and he has written and directed an interesting story involving the idea of religion and belief, friendship and tutourage. It has dark themes and with great help from the compelling score you feel on edge, there is an ominous worry that seems to settle in the pits of the stomach and won’t let go until the orchestra sounds fade away. Religion vs science is always a debate to mull over through the decades and here we get a new angle on the idea with Lancaster Dodd being head of The Cause trying to preach about past lives and making yourself better. Freddie played by Joaquin Phoenix is a new addition to the group and the unfolding story follows as he joins.
Phoenix plays the drifter, the weird and lost addict with inspiring conviction, he is downright fantastic, a towering performance from him as he switches from desperate to sad to happy to confused and a whole host of other emotions. It’s a complex character with his mind tainted by war and dangerous mixes of alcohol and other mad substances but he has his moments of highs making the angry lows more of an impact when they bubble over. Philip Seymour Hoffman is truly great and he loses you in his acting. Hoffman plays subtle and big throughout but most of all he provides a realism and believability in his role as friend, guardian, teacher, counselor, therapist and leader to Phoenix. This is in contrast to Phoenix who is more unpredictable in nature and rises and slumps without notice.The scene in jail between the two is a crescendo of testosterone and yet friendship. The pair of them provide a tour de force of acting and the most engaging part of the film is watching them two carry the film. Amy Adams is also a superb addition to the cast adding to the tension of the film, especially when she’s in close up and talks to Freddie telling him to see her eyes as a different colour, you get lost in her eyes and her grounded performance. The whole section where Hoffman and Adams are training Phoenix’s character is gripping and unsettling, they are masters of hypnosis without even hypnotising him. Freddie is completely under their spell and that’s the worrying hold of their cult-like cause.
The entire time you feel at a nervous disposition to whether Dodd is helping or not, it’s a brilliant plot to involve you in and though the film is long and the ending feels a little disappointing you can’t help but marvel at the photography of the entire movie and sit in awe at the grandstand performances. I think this is a film that needs at least two or three viewings to understand and see more. The ending doesn’t wrap everything up which isn’t a bad thing it’s just one that leaves you wondering what happens to Freddie and whether he is cured by the cause or now wrapped up in it.
The character building throughout from every actor is so good and the story is challenging and all the work crafted behind and in front of the camera is sheer unquestionable excellence.