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Cannes 2012: Joaquin Phoenix returns with Scientology-themed 'The Master'

May 22, 2012 |  5:00 pm

It's been a long while since we've seen Joaquin Phoenix on the big screen doing anything but mumbling and trying, unsuccessfully, to rap. Now that that phase is mercifully over, he's back in business with Paul Thomas Anderson's anticipated film "The Master," which by all appearances is a tale modeled on the story of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.

A few minutes of footage were shown this week at Cannes by the Weinstein Co., which plans to bring the film to U.S. theaters in the fall. An even smaller bit, above, has been circulating on the Internet. Phoenix plays Freddie Sutton, a young drifter who becomes the right-hand man of Lancaster Dodd, a charismatic intellectual (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) whose spiritual organization begins to catch on in America in the 1950s. Amy Adams plays Dodd's wife, Mary Sue.

Neither Adams nor Hoffman appear in the trailer, just Phoenix, whose character is undergoing some kind of questioning by a man in a military-looking outfit. It's a tense, unsettling scene, made more so by the ominous atonal music and washed-out palette.

Given the significant number of celebrity Scientology adherents as well as detractors in Hollywood, the film is awaited with a sense not just of curiosity but also trepidation and giddiness. Anderson himself has worked with perhaps Scientology's best-known member, Tom Cruise, directing him in 1999's "Magnolia." (The Wrap reported Tuesday, quoting two unnamed sources, that Anderson had screened the film for Cruise and the actor “had issues” with some parts of the movie.)

The picture is being financed by up-and-coming producer Megan Ellison, 26, who is using family wealth to bankroll movies under the banner Annapurna Pictures.

While Ellison might not have any Cruise movies on her docket for a long while, she's already doubling down on Phoenix. She's funding Spike Jonze's new film, which stars Phoenix, Rooney Mara and, coincidentally, Adams.


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-- Julie Makinen


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