Grim news has emerged from various blogs and entertainment sites: production on Paul Thomas Anderson's next film, The Master, has been suspended indefinitely. Meaning, while the film is not cancelled, the chances of it being made with the stellar cast and crew that was being reported suddenly seem pretty meek. This is devastating for anyone who's been following the development of this project for the last few months. It was beginning to rack up an astounding collection of talent both in front and behind the camera. First off, it is a P.T. Anderson screenplay, which is enough to get at least me excited, since he's probably the greatest contemporary filmmaker in the business right now. Then there was the news that Philip Seymour Hoffman would play the lead role, while there would be a supporting cast including Jeremy Renner, Reese Witherspoon, and Thomas Jane. Add to that, Robert Elswit - frequent Anderson collaborator and Oscar-winner for shooting Anderson's There Will Be Blood - was signed on as well to be Director of Photography. It's a tremendous group of people to come together for one movie, and being slated for release in 2011, it probably would have been the most anticipated film of next year. And now it seems over.
The screenplay (various drafts have been leaked around, so many have read it - though I have not) is about a man dubbed The Master, who becomes the leader of an exciting new religion in the 1950's. Apparently, this religion bares a striking resemblance to Scientology, and The Master is meant to be a recreation of Scientology's creator, science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard. Most of the film deals with The Master's strongest follower, Freddie, who has become entirely entranced by the charms and manipulations of the religious figure. Some have described the script as Freddie's story, and his own fight for his soul. Hoffman was slated to play the title character, while Renner was set to play Freddie. Many who have gotten their hands on the script have praised its ambition, as well as its moral ambiguity, but there was a lot of concern for its marketability. As blogger Simon Dang wrote in his blog The Playlist: "if intelligent dramas are being threatened with extinction of late (or at least at a certain budget), surely this could become a problem for PTA."
Now, there are certainly plenty of conspiracy theories that could easily and irresponsibly planted. Most obviously, the film seems to target one of the most burgeoning new religions in Los Angeles, so it's not like making this film would get P.T. Anderson any friends. The ominous quote from Renner that there was a "wall we couldn't overcome - or, at least Paul couldn't overcome", may suggest a certain director-talent altercation or tension. We'll probably never discover the truth. Here are the facts: Both Renner and Hoffman have signed onto numerous, high-budget projects that will probably fill up their time for the better part of a year. Also, The Master's financial backers, River Road, have said that they are no longer financing the project. So, as much as I hope the film will eventually get made, I know that the version The Master that we've been obsessively anticipating for about half a year will probably never see the light of day.