BroskiSabor’s review published on Letterboxd:
Wow. This movie really had me taken aback at the ending. One of the first times in a long time I wasn't anxiously checking my watch or other distractions while watching the movie. The story was unique and drew me in as if I was in one of The Master's trances. The film was beautiful, the subtle color changes they applied in post-production resulted in something that I never wanted to take my eyes off. The best thing about the cinematography was that it didn't need to do anything fancy at all to impress me.
As great as the plot was, I did feel as if there were some flaws along the way. Dodd's teachings are very unclear and hardly explained throughout the film. We get a loose feel for them, yet I was constantly wondering what was drawing all these people from around the world in. I loved the scene where More questioned the ideas, because it kind of outlined exactly what was happening, even though Dodd denied it.
I can't say anything to make one understand how great Joaquin Phoenix was in this film. One of the best roles I've seen in years. I think it's always different to watch a movie after I've already read the script because many times things are different, cut, or added in, but it's always a pleasure to see an actor take lines off a page and turn it into something so much more: a character. What are Quell's motives? Why is he with the Cause? Does he actually believe in it? These are all questions brought on not by Quell, but by Phoenix. Hoffman is much the same way (he was "master"ful. Heh).
The focus of the film, however, was the dynamic relationship between Dodd and Quell. My thoughts on each character are still a little all over the place, but here's me trying to sort them out: Quell never believed in the Cause. Yes, he wandered around from job to job, doing nothing more than drinking and causing problems. This made him a perfect subject for Dodd when he sneaked onto the ship. Dodd needed a subject that was different from those he had so that he could have proof that his Cause worked. Freddie needed work and a place to live, so he just went with it. As things progressed, Dodd tried harder and harder to get Freddie to forget his old ways and live a new life, but Freddie either didn't want to or couldn't. They developed such a close relationship because Dodd treated Freddie as a son. Both the scene where Val tells Freddie that Dodd's teachings are bullshit and the following jail scene pave the way for Freddie to question what he was doing with the Cause, which is why he leaves. He goes back to see if anything has changed, but when given the option of leaving or staying, he realizes once again that he never truly believed. The very last scene was nothing more than a game that he was playing with a girl to poke fun at it all.