Mike Torchic’s review published on Letterboxd:
Paul Thomas Anderson is someone who is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors. I've only seen four of his films and each one has blown me away. The Master is a film that I wasn't blown away by, but is still good nonetheless.
The plot follows Freddie Quell, a WWII veteran who is struggling with adapting to post war society. He is also obsessed with women and an alcoholic. After drifting for a while, he finds himself on the yacht of a follower of Lancaster Dodd. Dodd is the leader of the religious group "the cause". Freddie is asked to join "the cause" and ultimately agrees. Before seeing this film the plot summaries I read intrigued me. The concept of a troubled man wandering into a cult had the recipe for a great story. Now I'm not saying the story isn't good, which it is, I'm just saying it could've been better. Starting out with the positives though, the characters are extremely well developed with each one being interesting and intriguing. The character of Freddie Quell is a troubled person. He can't stop thinking about women and is a struggling alcoholic. After joining this religion he is put through many mind games where we discover about his troubled past. Quell is by far one of the most interesting characters in the film. The other character that was really well developed was Lancaster Dodd, the leader of "The Cause". This man is many things, he is a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist and a theoretical philosopher, But above all, he is a man, a hopelessly inquisitive man. This character is intriguing as hell because when he meets Freddie he acts like he has been rejuvenated. He starts to develop an interest, almost an obsession, with Freddie. He becomes very generous with him, despite the others thinking he's not fully devoted to "The Cause". However, his generosity has limits, as seen in a whopper of an ending. The plot was really good, I just felt like it was unfocused. On one hand you have Freddie and his struggle with adapting to post war society, but you also have the story of "The Cause" and what is going on there. Sometimes, almost unexpectedly, the story about Freddie is brought up and at the wrong time in the story. A rewrite or two could've fixed this problem, but despite this I felt that it still was a good story. I can't write about this film and not discuss the similarity of "The Cause" to Scientology. I'm not sure if PTA was trying to make this almost exactly like Scientology, but it does have many similarities. Lancaster Dodd is almost exactly like L. Ron Hubbard and the religion's values like the ones in Scientology. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, I'm just saying that there are many similarities.
The cast does a really good job with these roles. I really enjoyed Joaquin Pheonix as Freddie Quell, a troubled man brought into "The Cause". Pheonix really devotes himself to this character and pulls it off spectacularly. If this weren't a movie I could imagine Pheonix or any other person being this troubled man. The standout for me was Philip Seymour Hoffman in his final Paul Thomas Anderson film as Lancaster Dodd, the leader of the cause. Hoffman is charismatic as always and brings a certain charm to this otherwise serious man. You see both the serious and lighthearted side to this character which made for some really great moments. I didn't really care much for Amy Adams as Peggy Dodd, the wife of Lancaster. I didn't have a problem with her performance, but her character wasn't that well written. She had some good parts, but was very thinly written and almost served as a stand in. You could've replaced her with any other actress and the performance would be just as good.
The direction by Paul Thomas Anderson was really good! The film looked really good, especially because it was shot on 65MM film. The way the film was used gave this film a vibrancy to it that looked stunning, especially with some scenes in the daylight and by the ocean. The Cinematography by Mihai Malaimare Jr. Also helps. The camera movements in this film are so fluid and look great. There is virtually no shakycam and all the shots look stunning. I was especially a fan of the wide shots of the ocean and landscape because of their vibrancy and look.
The score by Jonny Greenwood was one of my favorite parts of this film. From the opening all the way to the end, his extremely melodic and beautiful score whisks you through this film. Unlike his score for There Will Be Blood which took more of an experimental approach, this film is more conventional, utilizing strings instruments to give a melodic sound. This film is worth it for the soundtrack alone.
Overall, The Master may not be my favorite effort from Anderson, but is a good film nonetheless. If you are a fan of Anderson, I urge you to check this one out.