In addition to the volcanic performances of the two leading men, Amy Adams shines in the role of Lancaster Dodd's ever-pregnant wife, Peggy. Her performance is unforgettable for its simplicity. While Hoffman and Phoenix spend the film re-writing the rules of Method acting, Ms. Adams creates a character as rooted as the Earth Mother figure that she portrays. We remember her intensity but also her clean, non-mannered approach to the role. A lesser actor would be erased when put side by side with Hoffman and Phoenix. Ms. Adams is very much in the driver's seat in her scenes, and the result is that her performance is on the par with her male leads.
By now, Paul Thomas Anderson's style is well-known. As America's true auteur, he creates films that pose questions that may not have answers. Time after time, his films hide more than they reveal. In his world there is a sizable unknown component at the heart of his stories that keeps us from getting close to his characters -- and that's exactly where Anderson wants us. His scripts are often challenging collages that we are allowed to contemplate but not totally comprehend. His affinity for Magic Realism and Surrealism is always given free rein. His predilection for the American West, whether geographical, as a state of mind, or as an archetypal component of American cinema is ever present in his films. In The Master, shot in gorgeous 70mm by the brilliant Romanian cinematographer Mihai Malaimare, Jr., it serves as a metaphor for the unattainable, as in a key scene where both Hoffman and Phoenix take turns riding a motorcycle in the desert at full speed out to an infinitesimal abstract point in space.
It is that point in space that Paul Thomas Anderson's films often want to reach, and in his best work he succeeds in taking us along for the ride even though we may not always reach our destination.