The Master rules: 'Scientology' film breaks box office record

Sep 18, 2012

Controversial movie draws long lines as critics rave about film exploring ‘the lure and folly of greatness’

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THE ‘Scientology-inspired’ American film The Master has become an instant art-house hit after it broke a US box office record on its opening weekend. Cinema-goers in Los Angeles and New York queued around the block to see Paul Thomas Anderson’s controversial film starring Philip Seymour-Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix.

Opening in just five US cinemas, The Master shattered the  ‘per-screen average’ record by taking $145,949 per screen over the weekend, said the Hollywood Reporter. By contrast the number one Resident Evil 5, took $7,005 per screen – though it did open at 3,000-plus venues.

The Master was already a critical darling, having won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and is now being tipped for Oscars success.

Written and directed by Anderson, the Oscar-nominated director of There Will Be Blood, it features Seymour-Hoffman as the charismatic leader of a self-help cult called The Cause and Phoenix as his troubled protégé. Both men shared the top acting prize at Venice.

Anderson has admitted that his film was inspired by the beginnings of Scientology and its founder L Ron Hubbard. As a result, the launch has been dogged by controversy with Scientologists threatening a negative publicity drive. Their efforts have failed.

Besides, The Master is not "some kind of muckraking expose" of Scientology, insists Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. Instead it is a “moody, disturbing film about personality, obsession and delusion”.

Nor is it “an insight into the prehistory of Tom Cruise’s love life”, writes the New York Times critic AO Scott. Hoffman’s character may bear “a clear resemblance” to Hubbard but the film is “about the lure and folly of greatness that comes as close as anything I’ve seen recently to being a great movie”.

The film is "utterly absorbing", says Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. Joaquin Phoenix - back in his first major role since his disastrous rap spoof, I'm Still Here - gives a "stunning" performance that puts him "on a par with the young Pacino or De Niro".

The Master opens in Britain on 9 November.

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