Aside from general tardiness, the reason I have taken so long to review 'The Master' - in spite of the fact I made sure I saw it first thing on the day of release - is because I haven't been entirely sure what to make of it. I make no secret of the fact that director Paul Thomas Anderson's 'Punch-Drunk Love' is my favourite film, which means watching the filmmaker's first feature since the almost equally brilliant 'There Will Be Blood' comes with a certain weight of expectation and a desire on my part to avoid a reactionary response which I might regret later! Mostly because I suspected (and continue to suspect) that his latest is a film which will gain a lot from repeated viewings.
'The Master' is not, at least to my mind, an immediately gratifying film. There are immediately gratifying elements, to be sure - the cinematography and Anderson's use of camera is one of the most obvious, as are the two central performances - but this story-light script is much more of a character study and exploration of various themes (such as religion as institutionalism and whether it is truly possible to be your own master). There's nothing wrong with that at all, and in fact the most interesting films are usually about characters rather than a narrative sequence of events, but 'The Master' takes this to an extreme, with very little happening outside of its broader exploration of themes.
'The Master' is rated '15' by the BBFC and is on general release now in the UK.