Published on February 6th, 2015 | by Allan Brown2
Inherent Vice Review
Movie Review: Inherent Vice (2015)
Running Time: 148 mins
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writers: Paul Thomas Anderson (screenplay), Thomas Pynchon (novel)
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Katherine Waterston, Martin Short, Jena Malone, Joanna Newsom
Holding fort somewhere between Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Last Vegas and Joel and Ethan Coen’s The Big Lebowski, confidently sits Paul Thomas Anderson’s perplexing 1970s psychedelic crime caper; Inherent Vice.
It’s 1970 and somewhere on the California beach front – through a haze marijuana smoke – sits the community’s private detective; Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix). One night, Shasta – a former girlfriend – drops-in, out of the blue, pleading for Doc’s immediate help. It turns out, Shasta has gotten herself into a bit of a pickle with her current squeeze, real-estate tycoon; Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts). It seems Wolfmann’s wife – who is aware of their affair – may be plotting to have her husband committed to the ‘looney bin’, and is applying a heady amount of pressure on Shasta to contribute to his incarceration. However, when both Wolfmann and Shasta disappear, Doc finds himself navigating a dangerous road of nard nosed police lieutenants (Josh Brolin), undercover saxophone players (Owen Wilson) and a mysterious presence known as the Golden Fang, as he pieces together the lingering threads of evidence in a bid to crack the case.
While the plot above all seems pretty straight forward, PTA has managed to craft something that truly blurs the lines of comprehension; so much so, that even the most in-tuned PTA aficionado’s – myself included – will struggle to decipher the director’s latest cinematic conundrum.
…truly blurs the lines of comprehension; so much so, that even the most in-tuned PTA aficionado’s will struggle to decipher the director’s latest cinematic conundrum
In classic noir fashion, the audience sees only through the eyes of the protagonist, therefore we only gather the strands of the narrative and clues of the case as Doc obtains them. The problem is; Doc is high on one narcotic or another for the entire film. Therefore, through the sparse visual aids and metaphors that are dropped into shot like hidden Easter eggs, we can deduce that some of the characters Doc encounters along the way, as well as various plot strands, are in fact, nothing more than clouded drug induced delusions. But how much so, is anyone’s guess. The fact is, there’s just never enough to go on. So while we try in vain to join the dots, hoping for that all important eureka moment, where everything falls into place, it sadly never comes. There are occasions – early on – when we are coaxed into a false sense of understanding, but just as we think we are getting a handle on things, characters and case threads crossover, darting off sporadically in all directions, as we are left once more, dazed, confused and ultimately lost, as we struggle forth, negotiating the psychedelic roadmap that is Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello’s semi lucid mind.
As a result, this makes PTA’s latest venture almost impenetrable – at least for an initial viewing – and more often than not, an extremely labouring exercise. However, plot threads aside, there is still much to love about the auteurs latest showcase, and none more so than the films glorious cast, delightful cinematography and joyous soundtrack.
Joaquin Phoenix offers another master-stroke in showcasing incredible restraint in his portrayal of ‘hippie scum’ Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello. As he is the main protagonist in this film noir, he really does carry the entire weight of the story on his shoulders, and he does so, effortlessly. His laid-back charm and intuitive comedic timing was also a unique and welcomed experience from an actor, who seems to growing with each and every performance. Elevating the film in the supporting roles are Martin Short’s smooth talking, drug addict dentist “Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd”, Josh Brolin’s square jawed neurotic police Lieutenant “Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen and Katherine Waterston as Doc’s ex lady, “Shasta Fay Hepworth. In a film that really does push the boundaries of patience, the many fun and vivacious characters that embody the narrative – and the incredible cast that portray them- are one of the films few saving graces.
The cinematography as you’d come to expect from a PTA vehicle is in itself a thing of beauty. The auteur is a genuine artist and Inherent Vice is no exception. Beautifully captured on a flat aspect ratio with a fine layer of grain, PTA has crafted a authentic time period that looks like it could have been shot in the 1970’s, as oppose to so many productions that rely solely on wardrobe or a punchy 70s soundtrack to sell the period.
Summary: There is no question that Paul Thomas Anderson has indulged himself with Inherent Vice. It is indeed an experience that will evoke much opinion, debate, frustration and of course, walk-outs. For me, despite its artistic majesty and volley of scrumptious characters, I sadly found Doc’s foggy journey too much of a labouring jaunt into unchecked bewilderment. Supporters may declare multiple viewings are essential in decoding PTA’s firewall encryption, but for your average Friday night punter, one painstaking viewing will likely be more than enough.