Victor Dubyna’s review published on Letterboxd:
Wow, this movie is fucking incredible. I definitely need to re-watch this, as there is so much subtle storytelling here. However, I know that I have grasped enough to know that this is an astonishing feat in film-making.
The opening of this film is incredibly reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey, to me. This film on many occasions discusses our animalistic qualities as humans, and this opening scene portrays these qualities with brutal honesty, and somewhat excessively. Presented with some non-diegetic tribal music, we see men on the beach fighting each other ferociously, and other men cheering. We see a man having sex with the sand that he has sculpted to look like a female. This scene is showing us what we are, on our lowest animalistic levels. This is a perfect introduction to a film all about humanity.
I could say more, but in terms of analysis, I will be discussing that more, after I re-watch this film and have another chance to really take it in. For now, I just want to address the spectacular craftsmanship and themes. This film is expertly constructed by the brilliant PTA, who directs the absolute fuck out of this movie. Every visual aspect of this film is top-notch. The lighting is phenomenal, and the cinematography is outstanding with claustrophobic close-ups and very distant long shots. The score is incredible, and perfectly fits the tone of this psychologically disturbing and bizarre story. Huge selling points of this film are the two leads. Their characters are extreme opposites, which some viewers have pointed out, recommending that this film is about acting. Joaquin Phoenix is outstanding, and I think this might be his best role. There are so many intricate subtleties in this often off-the-wall performance. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character is more put-together, but he plays his character with equal amount of skill and detail, and seeing these two together in scenes of heightened emotion, is truly a treat.
I am definitely going to watch this one again, and I could for sure see it becoming a 5 star film for me, because right now it is an incredibly high 4.5. Actually no fuck it, I'll give it a 5. Often compared to Scientology, which is probably true, but can be applied to the idea of religion as a whole; this film presents its ideas in a manner that is always intriguing, thought-provoking, and often disturbing. These themes paired with Phoenix’s character bringing forward themes of humanity and belonging, make for an incredibly smart, fucked up, emotional film. PTA is a genius, and I look forward to seeing this one again sometime, very soon.