This is a guilty-pleasure thriller for these tough economic times. In directing his first feature, writer and documentarian Nicholas Jarecki shows a great balance of sex, danger and manipulation with some insiderish business talk and a healthy sprinkling of dark humor. His film recalls the decadence of 1980s Wall Street, shot in 35mm as it is, with a synth-heavy score. Richard Gere stars as billionaire hedge-fund magnate Robert Miller. As he turns 60, Robert would seem to have it all -- yet he always wants more. So he "borrows" $417 million from a fellow tycoon to cover a hole in his portfolio and make his company look as stable as possible as it's about to be acquired by a bank. And despite the loyalty and support of his smart, beautiful wife (Susan Sarandon), he has a hot (and hot-headed) French mistress on the side (former Victoria's Secret model Laetitia Casta). Both these schemes explode in his face over the course of a few fateful days. Tim Roth, Brit Marling and Nate Parker co-star. R for language, brief violent images and drug use.
Viewers hoping for a juicy expose of the supersecretive Church of Scientology might want to adjust their expectations. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, There Will Be Blood) has acknowledged that the cult leader of the film's title -- played by Philip Seymour Hoffman -- was inspired by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. And certain key phrases and ideas that are tenets of the church do show up in the film. And yet, the church -- or rather, "The Cause," as it's known here -- emerges relatively unscathed. Hoffman's Lancaster Dodd, whom his followers refer to as Master, is commanding and calculating and sometimes cruel, but the bond he forges with a wayward Joaquin Phoenix reveals his inquisitiveness, his generosity of spirit and a love that teeters between the paternal and the homoerotic. Phoenix's character, the troubled, volatile and often inebriated Freddie Quell, seems happiest within the group. But The Master is about the way people's lives intersect, perhaps without a satisfying sense of closure. Anderson has created a startling, stunningly gorgeous film shot in lushly vibrant 65mm, with powerful performances all around. But it's also his most ambitious film yet. R for sexual content, graphic nudity and language.