The two dynamic performances at the center of are worth recommending the film. It's just a shame that the story itself is muddled and contains little insight into religious cults. It's 1950 and psychologically unhinged war vet Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) meets charismatic leader of "The Cause" religion, Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who aspires to help Freddie using hypnotherapy to time travel back to past lives. Phoenix and Hoffman are great but the screenplay by the film's director, Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood) never gives us a clear sense of the actual religion, although Anderson claims that Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard is the inspiration for Dodd. What I got from the movie is that Dodd is a charlatan, the religion bogus, and that all it does for Quell is damage him even more. That would be fine, except Anderson punctuates scenes with pretentious imagery - like the "naked" dinner party - and a final act that rambles toward a foregone conclusion. I also think the story should have centered more on Dodd and his beginnings rather than Quell. As it is though, The Master is engaging to a degree, but ultimately, like the religion portrayed in the film, there is not much there.