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I liked “The Master”, but I also thought it was a bit of a chore. By that, I mean that it really required an investment on behalf of the audience.

The story started simply enough. Joaquin Phoenix plays a Navy vet, deeply troubled by PTSD and seemingly motivated only by alcohol and brief liaisons with women. After his violent tendencies and highly dangerous “special potion” cost him two jobs, he decides to stow away aboard a fancy ship headed for NYC. Soon, he falls under the influence of a charismatic intellectual author (and, as it gradually becomes apparent, cult leader), who promises relief from his intense emotional issues.

The first act is very smooth, the highlight being the first “Processing” scene, where Hoffman asks Phoenix a series of increasingly probing questions, which he is challenged to answer honestly and without blinking. Phoenix is exceptional in the movie overall, but this scene is a particular gem.

From the second act onward, the film slows down a bit, and the relationship between Hoffman and Phoenix becomes more complex. A number of essential details are kept vague, which is further obfuscated by the fact that both lead characters lie repeatedly. For example, it’s never 100% established whether Hoffman’s character believes in his organization, or if he’s simply coasting on charisma to make his fortune. I was befuddled by the flick initially, but having had time to digest it a bit, I think it’s very worthy.

I really enjoyed the performances of the two leads, and I fully expect one or both of ‘em will be rewarded with an Oscar nomination.

But yeah, that “out of focus foreground” thing was annoying sometimes.

Google Led You Here: “Comic About Selling a Kidney” After making that difficult decision, I can understand why you would want to laugh, Internet Searcher. I hope you got a decent price for it.