Heads Up: The Master

There will be a cult following: Phoenix rises in 'The Master'

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The Independent Culture

What are we talking about? A film telling the story of a Second World War veteran who, on returning home, gets drawn in to a cult known as The Cause ….

Elevator pitch There will be a cult following: Paul Thomas Anderson, as writer and director, proves he's the master of arthouse movies.

Prime mover Anderson, the Oscar-winner behind There Will Be Blood, Magnolia and Boogie Nights.

The stars Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Lancaster Dodd, the charismatic cult leader known as "The Master"; Joaquin Phoenix is Freddie Quell, the damaged vet who falls under his spell.

Early buzz Rapturous, frankly. It has already broken arthouse box-office records on it's opening weekend in the US, and was a huge hit at film festivals; at Venice, it won Anderson best director, while Phoenix and Hoffman shared the best actor prize. A O Scott in The New York Times called it, "imposing, confounding and altogether amazing …. It is a movie about the lure and folly of greatness that comes as close as anything I've seen recently to being a great movie. There will be skeptics, but the cult is already forming." That cult looks set to encompass most critics, although the venerable Roger Ebert was less convinced, calling The Master, "fabulously well-acted and crafted, but when I reach for it, my hand closes on air. It has rich material and isn't clear what it thinks about it. It has two performances of Oscar caliber, but do they connect?"

Insider knowledge The cult is partly inspired by Scientology – when developing the role of Quell, Anderson took one of their personality tests, in character, which got him interested in Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard. Risky move: according to studio boss Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood Scientologists put them under "a lot of pressure" to stop or change the film.

It's great that … Phoenix is back on form, reportedly giving a star-making, career-defining performance in his first role in two years, after freaking everyone out with the is-it-isn't-it real documentary I'm Still Here.

It's a shame that … while the film is, unusually, filmed in the wide-gauge 65mm format, giving greater richness and depth, few cinemas still have the appropriate projectors to screen it in such a format ….

Hit potential Bound to be a hit. Has "Oscar winner'" written all over it.

The details The Master is released across the UK on 16 November.