Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. USA, 2012. The Weinstein Company, Ghoulardi Film Company, Annapurna Pictures. Screenplay by Paul Thomas Anderson. Cinematography by Mihai Malaimare Jr.. Produced by Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Ellison, Daniel Lupi, JoAnne Sellar. Music by Jonny Greenwood. Production Design by David Crank, Jack Fisk. Costume Design by Mark Bridges. Film Editing by Leslie Jones, Peter McNulty. Academy Awards 2012. Golden Globe Awards 2012. Gotham Awards 2012. New York Film Critics Awards 2012. Toronto International Film Festival 2012. Washington Film Critics Awards 2012.
Paul Thomas Anderson follows his superb There Will Be Blood with another look at the pulling of wills between two very different men. Joaquin Phoenix survives the horrors of World War II and finds himself unable to readjust to civilian life, taking on an assortment of menial jobs and spending his free time drinking moonshine. After a random walk along a pier leads him onto the boat of a powerful, self-appointed prophet (Philip Seymour Hoffman) with a religious following, Phoenix immediately latches onto this merry crew but spends much of the movie vacillating between devotions. On the one hand, he really does want to absorb Hoffman’s teachings about actively examining yourself towards perfection and the ability to connect with your billions year-old spiritual centre, but on the other his erratic, temperamental personality can’t stop him from acting up and getting into trouble with girls and the law. While the experience here is much thinner than the previous film, with a lead character who doesn’t learn much from his journey and a nemesis whom the director clearly has no admiration for, the execution makes for one of the most perfect films of the director’s career. Every shot is the work of a genius filmmaker with an amazing amount of control and substance, and every character gets deep under your skin. The men at the centre of it are the main focus, with Phoenix doing his most mesmerizing and harrowing work yet, while Hoffman’s one-note delivery and shallow charisma is exploited better than it ever has been before. The women are not to be overlooked, either, with Amy Adams as Hoffman’s wife radiating the conflicts of a young Liv Ullmann in her few key scenes, while Laura Dern brings a memorable level of gravitas to her underused moments. Perhaps the film won’t satisfy all viewers (particularly given that its obvious allegories to Scientology do not reveal much that isn’t already known), but films with no thematic subtlety should all be made this well.