Jamie Vann Struth’s review published on Letterboxd:
I hesitate to even put a rating on this because I feel it needs more time for my thoughts to settle. My initial thoughts are these.....
- If asked, I would name Paul Thomas Anderson as my favourite director and like all his films it looks amazing. There are multiple places where the cinematography is simply awesome. A scene of running across an empty field that starts off with a stationary camera behind the actors as they run away, and then swoops up alongside to keep pace with the man being chased. Overhead shots of the Navy men working or climbing stairs. Beautiful framing shots with 1950-era cars and houses, scenes moving with the characters as they walk, a scene moving with and then falling behind a racing motorcycle, close-ups of faces in "conversation," and on and on and on.
- I don't often notice scores, but just like There Will Be Blood the score is a constant presence in this film.
- But the most notable thing of all is the acting. Philip Seymour Hoffman has been my favourite actor for years, but the star of this film is Joaquin Phoenix. Just watching how he stands, how he walks, what he does with his mouth and his eyes, the way he talks, it's just extraordinary.
- But ultimately my enjoyment of films is all about character and plot, and the plot is where I'm uncertain, at least after a single viewing. I'm sure I would get more out of it on repeat viewings and there is likely a whole other layer of narrative and allegory that is going on that I'm missing. Even though the film has been out for a long time, I always try to know as little as possible going in, so even though I was aware of the probable allusions to L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, there may well be specific events or actions or symbols in the film that would be more meaningful if I was more familiar with the backstory. Now that I've seen it, I'll do some reading and see what else I can glean.
- So for now it's 4 stars, with the only downside being the incomprehensibility of the plot, but this may very well change over time.