Brodie Marchant’s review published on Letterboxd:
Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the greatest directors of our generation. Many simply say that he is the best. With Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood under the still-young director's belt, why shouldn't we expect anything but a masterpiece from him?
In a recent interview with Marc Fennell, PT. Anderson said to lower your expectations on plot. The Master's plot is very basic, but it's this way purely to service Joaquin Phoenix's character; Freddie Quell. Freddie has returned from the war with nothing awaiting him and is living out a life with no purpose. He is completely lost, left to wander the Earth. That's why the plot is so meandering, because it's driven by a character who just sits back and goes with the flow.
When he meets Phillip Seymour Hoffman's titular character; the Master, he doesn't really have anything better to do than to join this cult, which may or may not be about Scientology. It doesn't matter at all, all of the Scientology media buzz surrounding this film deserves to be scoffed at. PT. Anderson paints the cult and the Master in an honest and fair light.
When questioned about his intentions at the Astor theatre Q&A, Paul said "I don't know why someone would spend years of their life trying to hurt someone else." The Master is a character study, not an attack in any shape or form of cults.
With a run time of nearly two and a half hours, a meandering plot can sometimes feel tedious. Thankfully, this movie has Joaquin Phoenix, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams, all giving some of the best performances ever put on screen. Phoenix's in particular is absolutely breathtaking. Heath Ledger used makeup to disappear into the Joker. Phoenix does the same thing by manipulating his face muscles. He is completely unrecognizable.
This is a performance for the ages. It's impossible to take your eyes off of him. This completely makes up for the lack of a strong narrative.
Another word of warning, there is no real 'change' in The Master. There isn't a moment of realization where our protagonist becomes a better person. Adams' character surmises that Freddie is simply beyond help. This leaves the audience with a sense of pointlessness. The questions this raises only helps deepen the experience though, as you can't help but think about what The Master is actually saying.
As you may have heard, The Master was filmed almost entirely in 65mm. Which translates to roughly 8K resolution. Go find a theatre projecting it in 70mm. Seek it out. Travel long distances. It is worth it, I promise you. It is one of the most beautiful films ever made.
Set mostly inside internal sets, it's worth asking what's the point of 70mm without many landscapes to marvel at? In the closeups, the actors faces become the landscapes, filled with an incredible amount of detail you didn't even know existed. The contours of Phoenix's face, specifically, are incredible. The way he manipulates every muscle in his face to bring this character to life. It's this weird way of things that perfectly blends performance and visuals so that they become an even greater entity.
That entity is The Master. It is easily one of the best films of the year, but it may be the only one to live on. It will still be discussed decades from now, and is a strong mark in the legacy of Paul Thomas Anderson.