UK Release Date: 30th January 2015
Runtime: 149 minutes
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Maya Rudolph, Katherine Waterston, Benicio del Toro, Eric Roberts, Jena Malone
Synopsis: A teen tearaway finds himself thrown into a world of gentlemen spies and an evil environmentalist plot.
Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most unique and intriguing filmmakers working in the industry today. As a follow-up to Scientology-inspired drama The Master, he has mounted an ambitious adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s knotty novel Inherent Vice, which might be the most baffling mainstream movie of recent years. And despite that, it’s really good fun.
Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is a pot-smoking PI in 1970s California. One day, he is visited by an ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston) who wants him to investigate a missing person and soon takes on a number of other cases. Meanwhile, he butts heads with detective Bigfoot (Josh Brolin) and something mysterious that is known only as the ‘Golden Fang’.
Inherent Vice is an utterly incomprehensible mess of a movie. Anderson clearly has a real love for Pynchon’s prose, twisting it gleefully into the film’s unreliable and casual narration. He also transposes the incredibly complex plot, which is near impossible to understand unless you come to the cinema armed with post-it notes, string and a pin board.
| "You’re going to want to get good and fucked up before this meal."
Fortunately, it feels as if Inherent Vice doesn’t want its audience to understand the machinations of the events. It’s instead a film about atmosphere, with Anderson’s grubby film stock and Robert Elswit’s gorgeous cinematographically creating a palpably hazy portrayal of the early 1970s. This is a film about drug-addled people that seems to be drug-addled itself.
In this sense, the film makes great use of its time period. Inherent Vice is clearly set in a world struggling to come to terms with the end of “the swinging sixties” and battling to adjust to a more serious seventies. It’s, in fact, a free-wheeling world in which no one wants to take responsibility, even as society urges them to. The dope smoke is gradually clearing and no one seems to know what it will reveal.
Joaquin Phoenix sits in the midst of the action, seemingly as bemused and befuddled by the film’s events as the audience. His comic timing provides much of the film’s infectious gusto. In contrast to the quiet nuances of his work in Her, Phoenix here is a fully-fledged slapstick star, pratfalling through the pot smoke in manic bewilderment like a Gene Wilder for post-millennium Hollywood.
He is supported by a galaxy of supporting characters. They flit in and out of Inherent Vice, but are never given much chance to make an impact given the frenzy with which Anderson’s script hops through time. Josh Brolin finds plenty of laughs in his role as an unhinged cop, whilst female cast members – including Reese Witherspoon and Jena Malone – have little time to shine.
| "They removed any traces of soul she once had. It’s a horror story."
Above all else, though, the film adaptation of Inherent Vice works because of the riotously entertaining energy that Paul Thomas Anderson brings to it. The jokes land hard and the chaotic plotting provides a great showcase for Phoenix’s performance, which clearly shines through the crowded ensemble.
Inherent Vice is not a film that wants you to keep up. It’s a film that is best left to wash over its viewer, as an experience rather than a story.
Pop or Poop?
It seems strange to give such a positive notice to a film that doesn’t make any sense, but Inherent Vice is a great experience.
Paul Thomas Anderson brings real energy to the story, which is amplified by Joaquin Phoenix’s terrific central performance and Robert Elswit’s delightfully smoky cinematography.
It doesn’t hold together at all and the supporting performers are sidelined, but that doesn’t really matter much. This film just wants you to chill, man.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.