Star rating - 8/10
Cards on the table - the unique and wonderful Joaquin Phoenix can do little wrong for me (odd mockumentary aberration of 2010 I'm Still Here aside - there's no need to dwell, he is forgiven). And Philip Seymour Hoffman can be relied on to deliver consistently brilliant performances. So the prospect of this heavy weight double act did hold much promise.
The story is one whose telling has been long overdue in Hollywood - the fictional tale of a cult and its charismatic leader who come to dominate, domineer, and control those who come within their orbit. Of course it's a thinly disguised and scary picture of Scientology and its creator L. Ron Hubbard, who have wielded such influence among many in the acting fraternity for a long time.
Seymour Hoffman is superb as Lancaster Dodd, who wins over followers with his charm and charisma, and loses his temper quite marvellously in the face of any dissension or opposition. Into his path comes alcoholic and unhappy ex navy drifter Freddie Quell, played with his usual remarkable ability to totally inhabit a role by Phoenix. The film centres around their developing relationship, and how Dodd uses Quell's vulnerability and loneliness to spectacular purpose by manipulation, friendship and sheer force of personality. Their relationship does not disappoint, and they light up the screen when together.
In the face of such brilliance, it would be easy to overlook the great acting of Amy Adams as Dodd's wife. Adams is a brilliant chameleon actor, and excels yet again, as she has so many times since her extraordinary performance in Juno, in the role of his subordinate but feisty and influential partner.
It's a film that stays with you long after the credits, and which does not spoon feed you, which is definitely a good thing in my book. Paul Thomas Anderson knows exactly what he wants to do with the script, and on the whole produces another excellent and potentially award winning film, following on from his great There Will Be Blood. He does know how to get the best from a strong lead, as he did with Daniel Day Lewis that time around.
The Master is a tad overlong, and therefore loses its impact slightly towards the end. But the period 1950s detail and colours are sumptuously beautiful. And this is a slight defect which doesn't significantly detract from wonderful, just wonderful performances by Phoenix and Seymour Hoffman. And it's a serious and cautionary tale to boot.