Inherent Vice (2014)

Review #1,134

Director:  Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast:  Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Katherine Waterston, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro
Plot:  In 1970, drug-fueled Los Angeles detective Larry "Doc" Sportello investigates the disappearance of a former girlfriend.

Genre:  Comedy / Crime / Drama
Awards:  Nom. for 2 Oscars - Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Costume Design.
Runtime:  148min
Rating:  M18 for drug use throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some violence.

“I need your help, Doc!”

I’m a huge fan of the works of Paul Thomas Anderson.  He’s one of the finest filmmakers working today.  He also made what I think is the greatest American film of the 2000s decade – There Will Be Blood (2007).  Coming high from that film and The Master (2012), Inherent Vice is something of a disappointment.  But that shouldn’t detract you from seeing it. 

Adapting Thomas Pynchon’s novel of the same name is a tall order, yet doing so without losing much of the eccentricities and sensibilities of the reclusive author’s work is quite astonishing.  However, as a film, it is not always compelling, and at times meandering, perhaps the result of staying too faithful to the inner workings of the novel.  There’s too much exposition, heavy reliance on narration and doesn’t quite build up to any major set-piece, dramatic or otherwise. 

In other words, Inherent Vice is intriguing, but it does not intrigue.  For about two-and-a-half hours, it hovers in mid-air, without soaring (or landing).  Therein lies its polarizing nature; one either likes it, or hates it.  I prefer to choose the middle ground, and as much as it is a frustrating film to watch, you cannot deny the craft of Anderson – his use of colours, light and shadow, the brilliant use of old songs and Jonny Greenwood’s original score, and his astute direction of the cast. 

Joaquin Phoenix stars as 'Doc' Sportello, an eccentric private detective who gets drawn into a kidnapping and murder plot when his girlfriend, Shasta (Katherine Waterston), disappears.  Josh Brolin, who plays a mean-spirited law officer, (un)ceremoniously nicknamed Bigfoot, tries to make things difficult and confusing for Doc. 

Confusion and convolution is the name of the game here in Inherent Vice.  There's a kind of viscosity to the screenplay with information overload, and scenes that don't quite add weight to the film's disjointed narrative.  This is the kind of film where plot takes a sidestep, yet still integral to why the film exists in the first place. 

It is a strange, oddball-ish picture really, but it is also hip, cool and stylish like only Anderson can do.  The performances are excellent, with newcomer Waterston making a good impression.  Inherent Vice may enthrall film enthusiasts looking for something unique (and oblique), but at the end of the day what you get out of the film is really your own connection with Anderson's execution, rather than his intention.

Verdict:  Not always compelling, and at times meandering, P.T. Anderson's latest is a hip, strange, stylish, oddball-ish attempt to capture the drug-fueled exploits of Thomas Pynchon’s eccentric detective operating in the dirty, seedy 1970s.


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