The Master

Release Date 16 Nov 2012 TBA

  • User rating
  • Currently 2/5 Stars.
  • Critic rating
  • Currently 3/5 Stars.

  93% of raters want to see this movie


Genre: Drama

Paul Thomas Anderson’s THE MASTER unfolds the journey of a Naval veteran, Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix), who arrives home from war unsettled and uncertain of his future ­ until he is tantalized by The Cause and its charismatic leader, Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Philip Seymour Hoffman | Joaquin Phoenix | Amy Adams

Paul Thomas Anderson


Paul Thomas Anderson

  • Critic rating
  • Currently 3/5 Stars. Critic Review

THE MASTER (USA/16/144mins)

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Jesse Piemons, Ambyr Childers, Rami Malek, Amy Ferguson.

THE PLOT: It’s the end of World War II, and Freddie Quell (Phoenix) is spending much of his time brewing up some literally lethal homebrew, as he and the rest of his US Navy buddies wait on a tropical island for their ticket home. A man with a temper, and a malicious streak, after a string of bust-ups and chases, Freddie wakes up as a stowaway on a yacht, where the wedding celebrations for the daughter of the enigmatic Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman) are taking place. Dodd is currently working on his second book, charting his beliefs in alien ancestry and laying out the foundations for The Cause – his human-potential movement. Freddie is soon welcomed into this travelling circus, as they head out across America to spread the word and raise some funds…

THE VERDICT: Another beautifully crafted and breezily bonkers study of madness by Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master could almost be a companion piece to 2007’s There Will Be Blood. The real question is, did Joaquin Phoenix know they were making a movie? Maybe he thought this was a sequel to his own moc-doc. Called I’m Here Because I’m Not All There.

Which, of course, could be the motto of the Church of Scientology, the pseudo-religion that many will be thinking of as The Master explores the kind of people attracted to such cults, and the kind of people who start them. Then again, maybe it’s the founding of the Golden Globes? Either way, we know we’re witnessing the birth of a multi-million-dollar scam here.

Anderson has said that much of The Master was made up as they went along, which might explain the well-dressed, wide-eyed mania on offer here - and the sort of narrative that reflects more than a little madness both in front and behind the camera. It may also explain why the ending kinda… well, peters out.

The towering film critic David Thompson has questioned the inevitable critical praise foisted upon The Master (great actors waving it all about for a masterful filmmaker once again going down a psychological black hole), noting that in the US, the film has had a 25% walk-out rate. So, you know, be prepared. This is art house writ large. You can tell it’s art house because Philip Seymour Hoffman gets jerked off. You know where you are when Philip Seymour Hoffman pulls that face. RATING: 3/5

Review by Paul Byrne 

  • Avg User rating
  • Currently 2/5 Stars.

User Reviews

    • Currently 2/5 Stars.


    I feel like interpative dance would be a more suitable measure to do this for but, since I don't want to post a video of me up acting like a granddad doing the robot, I'll stick to my usual method of a written review. Okay, so the setup here is extremely simple - Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) returns to normal society after being a member of a warship during World War II. However his alcoholism, sex-obsessed thoughts and mental instability make it very difficult for him to do so, as he is thrown from every job he tries to take on. He eventually stumbles onto a pleasure yacht and meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who is the leader of a group called The Cause. He teaches of how we are not connected to animals, and are in fact vessels within which our souls have entered and have done so over trillions of years. He sees modern society as being clouded and disconnected, and attempts to enlighten people through his methods of therapy and meditation. To him, Freddie is as far across the spectrum from his ideal state as is possible, but nonetheless takes a liking to him and begins tests upon him over an extended period of time in the hope of "curing" him. However, either due to the trauma of war, alcoholism, or mental instability, Freddie has extreme difficulty in changing, and reverts to his violent and abusive ways many times. But Lancaster will not lose hope in his. The setup really is that simple, and the majority of this film focuses upon the relationship between Freddie and Lancaster. The opening 40 minutes or so feels very much like a French art film - the images are abstract and it is up to the audience to piece them together. And even then, the story isn't all that important at all. You can try all you want to read into Lancaster's philosophies or Freddie's mental struggles, but they don't really have a bearing on where things go. This is much more of a visual piece and on that front, the imagery and cinematography is beautiful at times. The camera captures some wonderful details and does far more in trying to immerse you than the story does. I do applaud this aspect, as well as the acting by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix. They really translate their characters well and give you a well of insight into who these people really are. Lancaster's moments where he is defending his group are the best scenes of the film for me; he carries an immense level of strength and authority that you almost want to believe. But sadly... I just could not settle with this film at all. Despite the lovely visuals, I always felt disconnected from what was going on, and completely blind as to what was trying to be said or illustrated. The end left me feeling nothing for the time invested, and honestly just left me questioning everything rather than appreciating anything. The screenplay was certainly very lacking and so many sequences felt rather scatter-brained to be completely honest. This was a movie that I didn't end up disliking; instead I just feel nothing towards it. The performances are worth a look but even then, contain so many bizarre and unnecessary moments of bat-shit-insanity that I felt that I had taken a shot of whatever that homemade booze Freddie put together. This comes down to just being a (5.5/10), boosted slightly by what I liked in the film. But could I recommend this to people I know? Probably not, if this is the kind of film you think might interest you, check it out on Blu Ray. Otherwise... I can't see the reason.

    • Currently 1/5 Stars.


    Long-winded, tiresome drivel. There is a total disconnect from what is happening on screen and the audience. The two leads eating the scenery while the audience chews on popcorn and looks at Facebook on their least those who haven't left the happened when I went. Misfire from a director I, until now, had great admiration for. AVOID.

    • Currently 3/5 Stars.


    • Currently 2/5 Stars.


    This has gotta be one of the most difficult films I've every had to give a review of because on paper The Master sounds like movie of the year material. A strong script, powerful performances and some of the best uses cinematography I've seen in any recent film, but somehow despite all of this, Paul Thomas Anderson's take on the rise of power of "NOT L. Ron Hubbard", somehow comes across as shallow and empty. Obviously, there is much worse available at the moment but if you are on the fence about this, I can say I'd recommend it.

    • Currently 2/5 Stars.


    A bit of a sprawling, repetitive mess, a film that hints at greatness to be sure, but fails to come together in any coherent way ...

    • Currently 1/5 Stars.

    Marty hanratty

    This ordeal is a real "mind bender" and it hurts. I am aware of the "raves" a lot of critics are slathering on this piece of "art" and I suppose I'm just too shallow to "get it". I surrender!

    • Currently 3/5 Stars.


    More than impressive, it's disturbing, I felt quite shattered coming out of the screening whether because of the sheer artistry on display or whether because of the themes explored, I couldn't say.

    • Currently 4/5 Stars.


    Anderson cunningly lets the viewer add the "sinister" here. We can ponder a group that sees value in collecting and guarding the secrets of its members, that seeks out celebrities, the passion for litigation as a means of battling those who question it.

    • Currently 3/5 Stars.


    The film looks stunning, the jazzy and 50s tunes' soundtrack is stellar, as are the performances. However, it's slow-moving at times and I didn't quite get it in the end, nor did I emphatize with any of the eading characters.

    • Currently 5/5 Stars.


    After the amazing highs of There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson has done it again and delivered another masterpiece with The Master. Although Anderson denies it's about the S word, it will no doubt be forefront in many people's minds as they watch events unfold. The S word here is Scientology. Burnt-out, shell-shocked sailor Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix) comes home from WWII and tries to re-adjust to normal life again. An aggressive, hard-drinking man with a habit of chasing skirt, Freddie finds himself taken under the wing of the enigmatic Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Dodd is a family man who inducts him into his controversial cult, which is simply called The Cause. Both men become reliant on each other over the years, as they learn about their past lives. However, Dodd's wife Peggy (Amy Adams) perceives a threat to the movement... Featuring two outstanding lead performances, The Master is a highly impressive film. In his first lead role since 2008, Phoenix once again proves what we've missed since he grew a beard and went a bit weird. He's a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination and may very well win it. He's well supported by Hoffman and Adams, whose characters are complex but sympathetic. It's a riveting, ravishing, beautifully shot film from start to finish that will no doubt provoke discussions afterwards. It may not be a film directly about Scientology, but it is about a Scientology-like movement and the nature of how cults operate. Definitely one of the year's best films and is simply unmissable.