Tardy Critic’s review published on Letterboxd:
The Master is a masterfully made drama written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.
The film follows Joaquin Phoenix as Freddy, a WWII veteran who spends most of his time concocting the most disgusting looking hootch brought to cinema, assaulting department store patrones, and panting after various women both real or made of sand. He has no qualms with following all of his basest instincts to get what he wants even if it forces him to bounce from job to job. His choices lead him to stow away on a river boat where he meets and befriends the titular Master, portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffaman, learning about his unique “cause” and his methods to contain and control the animal instincts Freddy has succumbed to his whole life. The rest of the film follows the ups and downs of their cult and their relationship within it.
This movie is a triumph on many levels, but could easily rest on the laurels of its acting performances alone.
Phoenix gives us an almost proto-Joker with far more depth, intrigue, and care than his Oscar winning performance of 2020 could dream of. Philip Seymour Hoffman, in probably his last great performance before his death two years later, provides the perfectly subtle counterpoint to the unhinged and unruly Freddy. He switches between charm, confidence, frustration, and insecurity in moments that keep you guessing when or if he could follow the animalistic instincts of his friend. The supporting cast is filled out with future Oscar nominees and winners including Amy Adams, Laura Dern, and a young Rami Malek. Jesse Plemons even appears in a small role as Hoffman’s son inadvertently feeling like a passing of the torch between actors whose careers feel like reflections of each other.
Anderson’s script is sharp and brisk making this nearly two and half hour movie move quickly. Especially with such scenes as the “Processing” scene which I would put up against anything as one of the great film scenes of the 21st century.
Be warned. This film is not a comfortable warm blanket. You may find it odd, jarring, and downright unfun. However, it has a warmth and care that grabs you and refuses to let go.
The Master is a must see for cinephiles everywhere.
Review by Josh Wierschke