Rob Humphrey’s review published on Letterboxd:
The Master is the kind of film that makes you believe in the power of movies.
Paul Thomas Anderson makes movies about people and he has a talent for making even the simplest of stories feel epic. That talent is on full display in The Master. A simple story about an alcoholic veteran who falls in with a new religion.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a naval veteran who comes home from war and tries to settle into life. Freddy is an alcoholic who struggles keeping a job and his sanity until a chance encounter with Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Dodd has started a new religion known as The Cause and he takes Freddie under his wing.
The Master has been talked about as a criticism of Scientology and various cults. The story here is much simpler than that and more meaningful. Yes, Anderson does shine a light on how vulnerable people fall prey to "religious leaders" such as Dodd. However, he also illuminates the importance of religion to people. Freddie is an alcoholic who is drifting through his life without any sense of purpose. There is no doubt that Lancaster Dodd is a fraud who is making things up as he goes but Freddie does benefit from his relationship with Dodd and his followers. We see his full arc as a character. Through their acceptance as one of them Freddie finds a balance and a place in life. At the end of the movie he may not be completely stable and happy but he is certainly in a much better place than when we first met him.
The acting in this film is unmatched by anything I have seen in a long time. Hoffman and Phoenix are both incredibly talented and they share some scenes that are absolutely riveting. One encounter early in the film is impossible to look away from. Amy Adams delivers a solid performance. My biggest complaint about The Master would be that she seems to be completely under used in the film. She plays Peggy Dodd, Lancaster's wife, and there seems to be a lot about her character that was left unexplored.
The Master did not receive the attention that was given to There Will Be Blood but it is every bit as epic and ambitious.