An interesting story that serves window into the politics inherent with a controversial film:

Paul Thomas Anderson directed Tom Cruise to one of the best performances of his career (and an Oscar nomination) in 1999’s Magnolia. Now, with Anderson and The Weinstein Company ready to release The Master (teaser here), Anderson is again reaching out to Cruise. Only this time it’s to screen a film that mirrors Scientology and casts a supposedly negative gaze in the direction of Mr. Cruise’s chosen faith. Here’s an excerpt from The Wrap‘s story:

According to two individuals close to the movie, Anderson recently screened the film, loosely based on the life of Scientology-founder L. Ron Hubbard, for Cruise.

Both individuals said that Cruise “had issues” with some parts of the movie. Cruise starred in one of Anderson’s earlier movies, “Magnolia,” and the two remain friends.

It’s an interesting move for The Weinstein Company, one perhaps of preemptive damage control. They know what Anderson’s picture is, what it’s deconstructing, so it makes sense that they’re reaching out to a leader in the Scientology community – ie the biggest movie star of all time. Cruise having some issues, while not a surprise, gives me pause.

Scientology is notorious for their aggressive and litigious ways and, if the church wants to decry The Master, they’re smart enough not to use Cruise and his newly-rehabilitated public image to do it.

So what, if anything, does this mean for The Master? Hopefully nothing. I suspect Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard isn’t even mentioned in the film. The allusions to Scientology are there on purpose, but the religion presented in the film is not Scientology. It’s quite possible that, even if Scientology ultimately does hate the film (a veritable certainty), they still won’t have a legal leg to stand on. Showing the film to Cruise (and supposedly Travolta in the coming weeks) was a courtesy on the part of TWC and one designed to quell any politicking or backlash from the church later on.

If there’s something specific that Cruise doesn’t want in the film, there’s a very good chance it won’t be there by the time we see the film– this is a company that would like to stay in the Tom Cruise business. If The Master were to be cut to appease Scientologists, I’m guessing it would be minor and you wouldn’t hear at all about it.

Still, I would hope that Paul Thomas Anderson’s vision for this film remains intact as is. Scientology is a controversial organization that few artists have been brave enough to take on in the years since South Park did Trapped in the Closet.

What do you think? Have Anderson and TWC made a smart play here? Or is this the first move in a larger game, one that has the potential to play ugly in the public forum?