Welcome to the first Oscar-buzz film of the season. I have to say I approached this film with a certain sense of dread. I don’t tend to go running to the Cineplex for a 2-hour and 20-minute period drama. Although, the two actors who could get me to do just that would be Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix. Turns out, they were the reason to see the film. Unfortunately, they were about the only reason.
Freddie Quell (Phoenix) is a lost cause. He’s a World War II vet struggling with alcoholism and mental illness. And when I describe him as an alcoholic, I don’t mean it in a Ladue, gimlets-after-golf kind of way. I mean, the guy drinks paint thinner. Everything changes when he stumbles onto a yacht carrying a wedding party—the father of the bride is Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman). Dodd is a charismatic cult leader with a system 'the Cause' that can do everything from improve mood swings to cure cancer.
Freddie, desperate for a lifeline, falls under Dodd’s spell instantly. The two men are dysfunctional and delusional in completely different ways, and oddly complete each other. It seems only Dodd’s quietly powerful wife, Peggy (Amy Adams), sees the doom on the horizon.
This film is worth seeing for the acting alone. Joaquin Phoenix is flawless as the damaged stray and Hoffman equally good as the pompous egomaniacal self-proclaimed guru. Yet, while the acting is Oscar-caliber, the film itself drags and lists toward dry. As I was walking out of the theater, I heard a man quip to his wife, I’ve seen worse. I couldn’t have put it better myself. It’s a 6.