‘The Master’: The Reviews Are In!

Critics praise Paul Thomas Anderson's film as 'wild and enormous' and Philip Seymour Hoffman as 'mesmerizing.'

“The Master,” the new film from Paul Thomas Anderson (“Boogie Nights,” “There Will Be Blood”), has begun its march toward the “Year’s Best” lists this week with a limited release in New York and L.A.

The story of a Scientology-like cult, its charismatic leader, and the wayward soul he’s bent on saving has wowed most critics, but left others too confused for their liking. Here is our roundup of reviews for “The Master.”

The Story
“It suits the rambling story’s churning tension and provides an apt symbol for the turmoil that plagues the dissolute, volatile drifter Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix). Quell, a WWII Navy vet, has heaps of psychotic anger he can’t quell, so his name is particularly ironic. Given that he’s adrift, it’s not surprising he’s drawn into the wake of blustery cult leader Lancaster Dodd, played exquisitely by Philip Seymour Hoffman.” — Claudia Puig, USA Today

The Direction
“In the decade and a half since his dark but rambunctious ensemble dramas ‘Boogie Nights’ and ‘Magnolia,’ Anderson has gone from a protégé of Robert Altman and Jonathan Demme to a Kubrickian formalist. He gives his actors more room than Kubrick did — you can’t imagine he’d make them do 60, 70, 80 takes to get precisely the readings he wants. But he has become a Very Important Director, a “painter of light.” Anderson shunned digital video and shot ‘The Master’ on rare 65 mm film stock. (The director of photography is Mihai Malaimare Jr.) The dark shadows are layered, and the low-angle close-ups of the film’s main characters have a ‘Rushmore’-like immensity.” — David Edelstein, New York Magazine

Joaquin Phoenix
“We are on edge from the start, and Phoenix’s presence magnifies that sensation. Hunched-over and mumbling, with an off-kilter sense of humor and a screwed-up mouth, Freddie is all impulse, and it’s usually of an adolescent, sexual nature. In his first film since the 2010 performance-art stunt of ‘I’m Still Here,’ Phoenix once again digs deep to mine his character’s inner torment and comes up with a mix of haunting quirks and tics.” — Christy Lemire, The Associated Press

Philip Seymour Hoffman
“Hoffman can lift his resonant voice to command attention or lower it to a velvet whisper, both equally mesmerizing. But it’s what the guru tries to conceal — his secret smile, his sudden wrath, the connection he feels with Freddie’s feral heart — that make his portrayal monumental. Hoffman excelled in four of Anderson’s previous films, but his tour de force here as a do-gooder-turned-silky-charlatan tops them all.” — Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

The Final Word
“All of this striving — absurd, tragic, grotesque and beautiful — can feel like too much. ‘The Master’ is wild and enormous, its scale almost commensurate with Lancaster Dodd’s hubris and its soul nearly as restless as Freddie Quell’s. It is a movie about the lure and folly of greatness that comes as close as anything I’ve seen recently to being a great movie. There will be skeptics, but the cult is already forming. Count me in.” — A.O. Scott, The New York Times.

Check out everything we’ve got on “The Master.”

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