Simon Ramshaw’s review published on Letterboxd:
"Free winds and no tyranny for you, Freddie, sailor of the seas.
You pay no rent, free to go where you please." - Lancaster Dodd
There is no denying that, like the quote above, The Master is poetry. It's cinematic poetry in a highly potent form. The imagery is stunning throughout, and the cinematography is something that stays with you, searing an indelible mark of that sea churning up in the wake of a boat into your mind. And like most artifacts of cinematic poetry, it goes against convention and doesn't take the usual approach to telling a story. While the narrative is mostly linear (with a few flashbacks and recurring images), there...isn't really a narrative.
In my previous review, I acknowledged that this is to show the rambling and directionless life of the protagonist, Freddie Quell. And while I stand by this theory, I don't stand by the decision to include it. I believe its effective, but for what I want from this film is not a sense of aimlessness, but one of resolution and direction. As should be my motto, "Just 'cause it's there, it doesn't mean that I have to like it".
However, it really helps that everything except pace and plot is nigh-on perfect. The performances are among the best set of performances in any film. Joaquin Phoenix's work here can go down in my book as a perfect piece of acting, with the all of the mental torture subtly and excessively showing itself in every way that an actor can possibly show it. His twisted gait, slurred speech, angry eyes and nervous laugh are just a few of the things that he utilises, and he absolutely owns the film. Close behind him (I'm talking inches here) is Philip Seymour Hoffman in probably his best performance too. The Master's outbursts of uncontrolled anger are genuinely shocking and scary, and he makes as much a threatening presence as Phoenix does in parts. Dodd might be as much a psychopath as Quell is, and Hoffman really brings that idea to the forefront in a re-watch.
The other absolutely exceptional aspect of this film is the score. Jonny Greenwood worked wonders with his almost Shining-alike score in Anderson's previous film There Will Be Blood, and he does a similar thing here. At times unsettling, at times inspirational, and consistently wondrous, it's bound to go down as one of the all-time great film scores. In one particularly stunning move right at the beginning of the film, the opening shot is accompanied with some inspirational violin chords, which then morphs into a sustained, contemplative piece, before becoming a semi-farcical, semi-unsettling wood-chime-based track. As unpredictable as its protagonist and the plot, Greenwood's score is phenomenal.
On top of the reliably awe-inspiring cinematography, The Master is a perfect movie with an imperfect core. Much easier to appreciate than to adore, it's an experience, not entertainment. And when you really think about it, that is exactly what it should be.