This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Josh’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Watched this for the first time last night so I'm still putting my thoughts together but now after sitting on it for a few hours I think this is the best film I've seen this year.
This is one of the most beautiful and impeccably made films I've seen - every shot felt unique and there were many moments where the lighting was a huge contributing factor to what was going on in the scene.
I will say that when it ended I felt blown away by the craftsmanship but sort of empty inside and I had the feeling that everything didn't quite add up.
But I think this is not that type of movie. I think it shows two men who feel the need to be dominant in whatever relationship they're in - Phoenix beats up or tries to beat multiple characters throughout the movie and Hoffman's character obviously tries to dominate through his spiritual beliefs. Even Amy Adams's character has that quality - when she masterbates Hoffman in the bathroom is a good example. It's mostly just a character study that is not interested in getting from point A to point B - it's a snapshot of a period of time in both of these men's lives.
I don't feel that Phoenix's character really accomplishes anything in the running time of this movie - I think he rejected most of the ideas presented to him. He reacted indifferently most of the time and seemed to be grasping for some sort of relationship with somebody - anybody and he found that with this group. He was a social deviant who never could fit in with anybody throughout his life - and we see many examples throughout the movie. Even one of the final scenes where he meets the random woman and has sex with her feels completely devoid of emotion. He lives a meaningless existence. I think he was fascinated by some of The Cause's ideas but never quite believed in them.
I have to say both Phoenix and Hoffman's performances are some of the best I've ever seen. Amy Adams was incredible also. There was a certain uncomfortable menace to her that had me nervous every time she was on screen. In fact, the whole movie made me feel uncomfortable and restless. I was literally terrified to see what would happen next. This seems to be PT Anderson's specialty - constantly toying with the audience and making you squirm in your seat.
Something that has really resonated with me and put this at the top of my list is the final scene between Hoffman and Phoenix. I didn't understand it particularly enjoy when I watched it but after reflecting on it it's such a melancholy and powerful scene. They almost had the type of relationship that lovers have and it felt like Hoffman was sad it was not going to work but was going to try and make the best of it anyways - I think that's where the singing of the song came in.
There are so many scenes in this that I continue to think about and obsess over. Unique scenes I had never seen before.
Once again, wow was this movie beautiful to look at. I wish more were filmed in 70mm like this one. My jaw was on the floor with just the cinematography alone.