Metascore
86

Universal acclaim - based on 43 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 37 out of 43
  2. Negative: 1 out of 43
  1. Reviewed by: Bill Goodykoontz
    Sep 19, 2012
    90
    The film is not an epic. It's not a masterpiece. But it is an involving study of men searching, searching for answers, for belonging, for a foothold in life at a time when footholds were hard to find.
  2. Reviewed by: Wesley Morris
    Sep 20, 2012
    100
    Nothing as big and strange and right as The Master should feel as effortless as it does. That's not the same as saying that it's light. It's actually heavy. It weighs more than any American film from this or last year. It's the sort of movie that young men aspiring to write the Great American Novel never actually write.
  3. 70
    The Master is big screen marvel intended for 70mm projection (a rare treat), with some beautiful imagery, but often inaudible dialogue. Phoenix's lived-in mumble comes off about as clear as Fenster from The Usual Suspects and Amy Adam's precise diction can't even save her harshest talking points.
  4. Reviewed by: Lawrence Toppman
    Sep 20, 2012
    88
    Anderson tells this story slowly, inexorably, with a sense of control I've never felt from him before. This is the least violent of his five dramas, the first where nobody dies. It's also the bleakest.
  5. Reviewed by: Roger Ebert
    Sep 19, 2012
    63
    Fabulously well-acted and crafted, but when I reach for it, my hand closes on air. It has rich material and isn't clear what it thinks about it. It has two performances of Oscar caliber, but do they connect?
  6. Reviewed by: Michael Phillips
    Sep 20, 2012
    100
    The Master is brilliantly, wholly itself for a little more than half of its 137 minutes. Then it chases its own tail a bit and settles for being merely a fascinating metaphoric father-son relationship reaching endgame. It may not all "work," but most of it's remarkable.
  7. Reviewed by: Peter Rainer
    Sep 14, 2012
    100
    The performances by Phoenix and Hoffman are studies in contrast. Phoenix carries himself with a jagged, lurching, simianlike grace while Hoffman gives Dodd a calm deliberateness. Both actors have rarely been better in the movies. The real Master class here is about acting – and that includes just about everybody else in the film, especially Adams, whose twinkly girl-next-door quality is used here to fine subversive effect.
  8. Reviewed by: Damon Wise
    Oct 29, 2012
    100
    An often brilliant '50s-throwback character drama that never feels nostalgic, with terrific central performances and a luminous, unforgettable visual beauty.
  9. Reviewed by: Lisa Schwarzbaum
    Sep 14, 2012
    100
    It's also one of the great movies of the year - an ambitious, challenging, and creatively hot-blooded but cool toned project that picks seriously at knotty ideas about American personality, success, rootlessness, master-disciple dynamics, and father-son mutually assured destruction.
  10. Reviewed by: Kenneth Turan
    Sep 14, 2012
    100
    The Master takes some getting used to. This is a superbly crafted film that's at times intentionally opaque, as if its creator didn't want us to see all the way into its heart of darkness.
  11. Reviewed by: Rene Rodriguez
    Sep 21, 2012
    50
    The Master has become a contest between two gifted actors trying to shout each other down. The commitment to their roles is impressive, but it's tethered to a weightless, airless movie, a film so enamored of itself, the audience gets shut out.
  12. Reviewed by: Alison Willmore
    Sep 13, 2012
    90
    What makes The Master such a singular experience, as dense as a mille-feuille, is that it is not Lancaster's story but Freddie's, and told as such, in layers that are sensorially rich but that do not always lead easily from one to another.
  13. Reviewed by: Mike Scott
    Sep 21, 2012
    60
    What Anderson's talky and willfully opaque film doesn't have, however, is an unfailingly compelling story to tell.
  14. Reviewed by: Joe Neumaier
    Sep 13, 2012
    80
    This superb, cerebral film about unchecked belief is a fictionalized and cutting drama hinging on the origins of Scientology. Scratch around a bit, though, and its wider indictments become clear.
  15. 80
    If I seem cool, it might be because I came in hoping for the same level of blood-and-thunder as in the Evangelical scenes of "There Will Be Blood," whereas The Master is a cerebral experience. But Anderson has gone about exploring fundamental tensions in the American character with more discipline than I once thought him capable.
  16. Reviewed by: Rex Reed
    Sep 18, 2012
    25
    Call The Master whatever you want, but lobotomized catatonia from what I call the New Hacks can never take the place of well-made narrative films about real people that tell profound stories for a broader and more sophisticated audience. Fads come and go, but as Walter Kerr used to say, "I'll yell tripe whenever tripe is served."
  17. Reviewed by: Lou Lumenick
    Sep 11, 2012
    88
    It's a sharply written, unforgettably directed character study with brilliant performances by Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams - far more intimate but no less intense than director Paul Thomas Anderson's Oscar-winning last film, "There Will Be Blood.''
  18. Reviewed by: Ella Taylor
    Sep 14, 2012
    95
    Without ever saying so, the movie adds up to nothing less than a social psychology of the nervous, spiritually questing geist of post-World War II America.
  19. Reviewed by: Steven Rea
    Sep 20, 2012
    75
    Phoenix's performance is one of such wild, intense abandon that it is not to be believed, and this, in fact, was my problem as The Master sailed into its momentum-less second hour.
  20. Reviewed by: Shawn Levy
    Sep 20, 2012
    83
    Anderson, god love him, seems determined to make the "Great American Film." The Master isn't it, but you come away from it with the sense that may be on the right path.
  21. Reviewed by: James Berardinelli
    Sep 14, 2012
    75
    Yet, for all of The Master's laudable elements, it falls short of greatness for one simple reason: the storytelling is unspectacular.
  22. Reviewed by: Peter Travers
    Sep 10, 2012
    100
    Written, directed, acted, shot, edited and scored with a bracing vibrancy that restores your faith in film as an art form, The Master is nirvana for movie lovers. Anderson mixes sounds and images into a dark, dazzling music that is all his own.
  23. Reviewed by: Andrew O'Hehir
    Sep 15, 2012
    90
    The Master is often spectacular and never less than handsome, and it has numerous moments of disturbing and almost electrical power. I can't say, after one viewing, that I found it moving or satisfying as a whole, but I'm also not sure it's supposed to be. This is an almost apocalyptic tale of thwarted emotion - love cut short - set in a pitiless land of delusions.
  24. Reviewed by: Mick LaSalle
    Sep 20, 2012
    50
    If it were just a middling effort, The Master would be a lot less frustrating. But the latest from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson has greatness in it - two extraordinary performances, intuitive and revealing photography and scene setting, and a distinct directorial sensibility that hovers between sobriety and satire. Yet all those virtues are undermined by a narrative that goes all but dead for the last hour.
  25. Reviewed by: Calum Marsh
    Sep 10, 2012
    50
    The Master is Paul Thomas Anderson with the edges sanded off, the best bits shorn down to nubs.
  26. Reviewed by: Dana Stevens
    Sep 21, 2012
    80
    The Master is above all a love story between Joaquin Phoenix's damaged WWII vet, Freddie Quell, and Philip Seymour Hoffmann's charismatic charlatan, Lancaster Dodd. And that relationship is powerful and funny and twisted and strange enough that maybe that's all the movie needs to be about.
  27. Reviewed by: Joe Williams
    Sep 20, 2012
    100
    The Master is not a schematic attack on a particular religion. It is a brilliantly conceived and powerfully realized work of art, with complex characters, exquisite images and ambiguously big ideas.
  28. Reviewed by: Steve Persall
    Sep 19, 2012
    100
    This is a rapturous cinematic experience, a spellbinding expression of shrouded ideas and exposed talent, top to bottom.
  29. Reviewed by: Scott Tobias
    Sep 12, 2012
    100
    It's a feisty, contentious, deliberately misshapen film, designed to challenge and frustrate audiences looking for a clean resolution. Just because it's over doesn't mean it's settled.
  30. Reviewed by: Liam Lacey
    Sep 20, 2012
    100
    Like Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut," Anderson's latest is enigmatic. But if you have eyes and can see, The Master it is unmistakably some kind of wonder. At least, it's an exhilarating demonstration of big-screen moviemaking in dreamlike colours and a sense-heightening 70-mm format.
  31. Reviewed by: Xan Brooks
    Sep 1, 2012
    100
    The themes may be contentious, but the handling is perfect. If there were ever a movie to cause the lame to walk and the blind to see, The Master may just be it.
  32. Reviewed by: Todd McCarthy
    Sep 1, 2012
    100
    Two things stand out: the extraordinary command of cinematic technique, which alone is nearly enough to keep a connoisseur on the edge of his seat the entire time, and the tremendous portrayals by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman of two entirely antithetical men
  33. Reviewed by: A.O. Scott
    Sep 13, 2012
    100
    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.
  34. Reviewed by: Anthony Lane
    Sep 10, 2012
    90
    On reflection, and despite these cavils, we should bow to The Master, because it gives us so much to revere, starting with the image that opens the film and recurs right up to the end-the turbid, blue-white wake of a ship. There goes the past, receding and not always redeemable, and here comes the future, waiting to churn us up.
  35. Reviewed by: Charlie Schmidilin
    Aug 17, 2012
    83
    Even amongst its most wrenching scenes of unfettered anger and broken loyalty, a volatile sensuality nonetheless invades every frame of Paul Thomas Anderson's arresting The Master.
  36. Reviewed by: Richard Corliss
    Sep 1, 2012
    70
    While the movie is glorious to watch, it brings no coherence or insight to its two main characters.
  37. Reviewed by: Joshua Rothkopf
    Sep 11, 2012
    60
    I'd trade much of The Master for one extraordinary moment played by the ever-improving Amy Adams, in front of the bathroom mirror with Hoffman.
  38. Reviewed by: Emma Dibdin
    Nov 4, 2012
    100
    With potent performers and poetic visuals, Anderson has made the boldest American picture of the year. Its strangeness can be hard to process, but this is a shattering study of the impossibility of recovering the past.
  39. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    Sep 13, 2012
    63
    Anderson has taken pains to re-create the '50s with superb production design and gorgeous cinematography. But he seems less concerned with whether the audience is along for the ride. The story can leave viewers at sea, floundering to give meaning to what they are watching.
  40. Reviewed by: Justin Chang
    Sep 1, 2012
    90
    The writer-director's typically eccentric sixth feature is a sustained immersion in a series of hypnotic moods and longueurs, an imposing picture that thrillingly and sometimes maddeningly refuses to conform to expectations.
  41. Reviewed by: Karina Longworth
    Sep 11, 2012
    90
    It's a film of breathtaking cinematic romanticism and near-complete denial of conventional catharsis. You might wish it gave you more in terms of comfort food pleasure, but that's not Anderson's problem.
  42. Reviewed by: Joe Morgenstern
    Sep 13, 2012
    90
    Paul Thomas Anderson's remarkable sixth feature addresses, by extension, the all-too-human process of eager seekers falling under the spell of charismatic authority figures, be they gurus, dictators or cult leaders. Or, in the case of this masterly production, a couple of spellbinding actors.
  43. Reviewed by: Ann Hornaday
    Sep 21, 2012
    63
    By bringing so much thought, verve and visual poetry to bear on two neurotics acting out -- rather than on the larger cultural story they anticipate and embody -- The Master turns out to be more of a self-defeating whimper than the big, important bang it could have been.
User Score
6.9

Generally favorable reviews- based on 394 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 75 out of 150
  2. Negative: 56 out of 150
  1. Sep 17, 2012
    10
    Another amazing epic Paul Thomas Anderson film where every facet of the film is extremely dynamic. It is very dense and there's a lot to take in whether it be the tense, grinding score, the gorgeous shot choices (punctuated by vibrant color and detail in 70mm), or knock out performances from the lead males. The physical work that Joaquin does is outstanding, I have not seen an actor as fully committed and free in a long time, perhaps since Daniel Day in There Will Be Blood. Paul's most interesting film in terms of structure/ editing, jumping through time willy nilly, perhaps mirroring the teachings of Lancaster Dodd or perhaps entering the mind of Freddie continually going back to where he is stuck (the war/ lost loves). The relationship between Dodd and Quell is tense and at times adorable, they are so in love and desire so much to have what the other has: Lancaster wants to act on impulse and not be controlled by any "Master" and Freddie whats to break this insane cycle he seems to find himself trapped in. This film will absolutely take many more viewings and I believe it will continue to grow in my mind as PT's best film (potentially). Full Review »
  2. Sep 17, 2012
    1
    There is a growing chorus of hosannas greeting "The Master" that will no doubt crescendo around Oscar time, but I would like to add my voice to the minority. There are very few negative reviews for this movie. Those I have seen have usually received a stream of venom from readers, who fill the comments sections with wounded outrage. The raves, meanwhile, are telling in their own way. Consider this quote from our own Kenneth Turan ("'The Master' mesmerizes in word and deed", LA Times, 9/13/12): "its interest is not in tidy narrative satisfactions but rather the excesses and extremes of human behavior, the interplay of troubled souls desperate to find their footing." Tidy narrative satisfactions. Here's another: "This is a superbly crafted film that's at times intentionally opaque, as if its creator didn't want us to see all the way into its heart of darkness." Anyone beginning to get a whiff of **** here? No? Perhaps we should take the advice of Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum: "the movie may not even be fully comprehensible on first viewing, the bigger patterns in the narrative and the rhythms of the filmmaking revealing themselves more fully and clearly only with a return visit. Even then The Master is enigmatic." Well, you can't have everything. But Kenneth Turan deserves the final word: "it's disconcerting that the relationship between (Dodd and Quell) gets murkier rather than clearer as time goes on, (but) that is perhaps the point." Yes, we all love being disconcerted by murky enigmas, don't we? There's a certain feeling of sophistication that comes along with it. But this seems to me to be more like the shared thrill of a mob mentality, the kind of thing that gets dictators elected and cult leaders established, a projected fantasy of greatness that finds affirmation in incomprehensible mediocrity. We've seen it before. It would be perhaps too harsh to say that "The Master" is an example of this. There is no doubt a lot fine work on display in this film. But if I want opacity, I can always just stare at a wall. Full Review »
  3. Sep 18, 2012
    0
    It's tempting to label opaque films as profound. Their ambiguity hints at a well of feeling percolating just beneath the surface, one that touches on pain, loss, sadness, everything it is to be human. But, and this may be a hard pill to swallow, sometimes opaque films are just that: opaque. They are pointless exercises in nebulous action and inactive structure for the sake of appearing profound. The Master falls into this category. It is a full 2.5 hours of unbridled fatuous nonsense. Paul Thomas Anderson, who is no doubt a talented writer/director, seems to have gotten lost in his own reputation for literary mystique, and the result is one of the more narcissistic pieces of films I've had the displeasure of watching. Be assured that if any no-name writer/director submitted this script for financing, he/she would have been met with a resounding chorus of criticism, and the project would never have gotten off the ground. The Master presents no story, no real characters, nothing beyond a handsomely shot vacuous mess. The film's climactic moments fail to stir an emotional response because they signify nothing grander than the cinematic arrogance of an auteur that relishes the label auteur. If ever there was an example of narcissism in film, The Master is it. As for the throngs of adoring fans, I would only suggest that artistic output, particularly vague, nonsensical artistic output, has the unique ability to coerce accolades by intimidation. To suggest that there is nothing profound in The Master is to open oneself up to the criticism that he/she was incapable of picking up on the films nuances. It's tempting instead to nod along with the discordant soundtrack and addled story structure and pretend to get it. But I don't feel like nodding along to this because there is nothing here to get. And the unending stream of praise might be the most pointed example of insecurity since the Emperor sauntered out in public wearing his new clothes. Full Review »