Debbie’s review published on Letterboxd:
From the first opening shot of the blue waves, and three loud, dissonant chords - I knew I was in for something special.
To describe The Master and its power in absolute encapsulation of my emotions and thoughts would be undefinable. In simple terms: it is a mess of thoughts jumping around, trying to find ground --but never quite reaching it. This is my first watch of a film by the clearly high esteemed Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood is on my watchlist) - his gritty and intimate study into a domineering figure against the backdrop of the 1950s, is something unique and emotionally profound.
This film is held up by the incredibly talented Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Both men transform entirely into different characters, yet what connects them is their complete immersion into their respective characters. Whereas Phoenix physically explodes through his role, distorting his body and face in uncomfortable positions - Hoffman internalises his character's vulnerability in his coercive character. They are both impressively astounding. Amy Adams is similarly excellent, although with a smaller role, brings to the table a woman who drives her husband's cause with manipulative efforts. Moreover, Jonny Greenwood's score is just brilliant. It manages to work fantastically in the quietest, intimate moments -- but concurrently achieves success in its ripping out of imbalancing, and uncomfortable dissonance, in scenes of momentary need.
The cinematography is just visually stunning, and is assisted by the varying dark and bright colour palette, which wonderfully depicts the age of the time. The film doesn't always move towards one direction; its simplistic telling of Freddie, a Naval war veteran, whose salvation supposedly comes in the form of Lancastor Dodd and The Cause - is vague at times - but there is always meaning, if you are willing to dig a little deeper. From close up shots of Freddie's face with minimal music, to moments of loud brainwashing, Anderson handles his themes carefully, pushing for a more incoherent structure, similarly echoing the traumatised psyche of his anti-hero.
There is no "inherent state of perfect" (in the words of Dodd) to Anderson's The Master, but the strange atmosphere and haunting starkness of the film is something of a unique and thought-provoking piece of film-making that Anderson presents us with.