The word's been out on Paul Thomas Anderson's latest for nearly a month now, thanks to some less than covert 70 mm screenings intended to get it seen first in its proper format. This morning saw "The Master"'s more or less official premiere in Venice, which brings the already positive word further to the front of the conversation. In two weeks the film will have its release in New York and Los Angeles before expanding to the rest of us the following Friday, but the encouraging, if somewhat beguiled, reaction to the film makes the short wait a more manageable feat.
Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter): "In a film overflowing with qualities but also brimming with puzzlements, 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, one an unlettered drifter without a clue, the other an intellectual charlatan who claims to have all the answers. They become greatly important to each other and yet, in the end, have an oddly negligible mutual effect. The magesterial style, eerie mood and forbidding central characters echo Anderson's previous film, There Will Be Blood, a kinship furthered by another bold and discordant score by Jonny Greenwood."
Guy Lodge (In Contention): "Paul Thomas Anderson's cinema has never not been enthrallingly untidy in its emotions and ideas. But while all observations about his latest feel tentative after a single viewing, it's tempting to call "The Master" his most malleable film to date, for all the crisp lines of its formal construction. It's also likely his coldest, in a way that may or may not chill the prestige-season awards hopes otherwise beckoned by its beefy political substance, uniformly remarkable performances and quite astonishing sense of craft, unmatched by anything in American film so far this year."
Justin Chang (Variety): "Delivering little in the way of catharsis but offering an overwhelming number of things to think about, "The Master" is finally a wry but not uncompassionate study of human vulnerability and suggestibility, and of the disconnect that occurs when human behavior stubbornly resists the pull of an individual's whims or society's expectations. By dint of its outsider protagonist, the film leaves the viewer with a particularly perverse kind of optimism: When someone promises freedom and offers enslavement, madness may well be a better defense than sanity."