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(1) Because it’s brave.
Going against Scientology (and in fact anything that preaches a “Cause”) is a bold move, though as the film continues to make lots of money, it will probably seem a little less brave.
(2) Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman give a master class in screen acting.
They’re riveting–beyond brilliant as the lost, unruly soul Freddie Quell and his potential scammer/Svengali Lancaster Dodd. And though there are moments that seem to be screaming for Oscar nominations, those are not necessarily outside the characters’ parameters.
(3) There are some really racy scenes.
Like–SPOILER ALERT–Phoenix’s arrestingly weird character answering Rorschach test questions exclusively with genital-related replies, and Hoffman’s idealogue pleasuring himself in front of the bathroom mirror as wife Amy Adams tells him the rules of their relationship.
(4) There’s interesting music.
Hoffman sings in a bizarrely magnetic way I won’t even describe because–again–you must see this! And the use of soundtrack songs like Ella Fitzgerald’s version of “Get Thee Behind Me Satan” is both apt and surprising. Poor Tom Cruise. He thought he had the biggest musical of the year.
(5) The master is clearly writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson.
His movies are always ambitious and unnerving and often annoying, and this one’s no different–it starts stronger than it winds up–but it’s filled with beautiful filmmaking that comes from an artistic vision that really…whoops…hypnotized me.