Inherent Vice | Paul Thomas Anderson | New York Film Festival 2014
The Golden What? The 1960’s are finished. The ‘Summer of Love’ is over. Aging hippies and drifters wander back into the normal life, and the conservative forces push back into control…but the psychedelic trip isn’t over just yet. Director Paul Thomas Anderson presents his seventh feature film, Inherent Vice, an adaption of Thomas Pynchon’s novel of the same name. The story follows Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello, a private eye, living barefoot on the coast of California. His world turns when he finds his ex-girlfriend has gone missing, sending him on a wild chase for a “Golden” goose.
The history of Inherent Vice starts a few years ago. Paul Thomas Anderson was finished working on The Master, and had previously planned to adapt the novel. The way events unfolded may have been critical, launching a reinvigorated drive for the film. Unless you live under a considerably dark rock, PTA is regarded as one of the most prolific directors of the modern age. His stylistic influences are oft debated amongst lovers of film, where some consider him an amalgamation of Kubrick and Hitchcock and others think his flavor is diverse enough to be his own. Whatever sparse criticism arrises is a product of his prowess: He has directed fewer films than other big names, but every single one has held it’s weight, boosting expectations for the next. It’s like Christmas every time, and critics rush to attend the first screening. The Master was acclaimed for it’s embracing and expansive display of film as true art, which makes Inherent Vice that much more unique and compelling.
Once again, this is not an “easy” film to watch. It’s not even easy in the context of Paul Thomas Anderson. The amount of characters being introduced and balanced will fry the brains of even the most intent critic. On the surface, that could seem like a detractor, a product of hapless writing…but in this case I don’t think it is. The colorful cast of individuals are like part of a painting — a painting you’ve looked at after dropping some acid. Joaquin Phoenix once again proves that he’s capable of enveloping any character, nailing Doc’s uncouth-yet-intelligent manner. Josh Brolin portrays Detective Christian ‘Bigfoot’ Bjornsen, a cop who plays things so seriously that he becomes a parody of himself. (Seeing Bigfoot enthusiastically consume chocolate-covered frozen bananas is funnier than it sounds.) The manic dentist, Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd, continues Inherent Vice‘s unexpected rogues gallery. It was great seeing Martin Short physically on camera again, after a few years of mainly voiceover work. Though near the center of the plot, Katherine Waterston’s Shasta has but a few appearances on screen…however, that doesn’t stop her from making a statement. She gives a monologue near the end of the film that stands as the one calming, soothing piece of the entire trip. After the fallout of the climax, I was satisfied with the way things concluded and where the characters finished. (That is a point of contention, as Anderson has stated he changed the ending separating it from the book’s. I purposely did not read the source text before seeing Inherent Vice, I wanted a clear conscience.) It’s kind of like the morning after a rager, you have fragments of memories from the night before, but they’re mostly of fondness.
We get to see through the eyes of some fresh 35mm film, unfortunately a dwindling treat these days, with the stylistic “grit” of noir film…fitting of a detective story. There are some really beautiful shots in here, if you can catch your breath. Cinematographer Robert Elswit has worked on a variety of films including our recent favorite, Nightcrawler, and clearly has a knack for the low-light scenes. Set to the sights is a brilliant score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, his third collaboration with Anderson, along with classic tunes of the 60’s. (It also features a previously unreleased Radiohead song!) The opening scene alone gets you energized. PTA’s writing combined with author Thomas Pynchon’s characters poises Inherent Vice to become a cult film. The oddball dialogue is reminiscent of the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski, with one liners worthy of quotes and chuckles at cheap humor; but to it’s accord, it never tries to be more than it is. It’s the way Doc would want it to be.
You’re going to have to catch this flick a couple of times. Once to enjoy it, twice to understand it, but it’s completely worth the scratch. It no doubt will (and already has) polarize some critics, but what do we know? Inherent Vice is a wild, enjoyable, groovy ride that keeps your mind addicted and your eyes glued to the screen. You just have to see it to believe it.
INHERENT VICE hits theaters in select cities TODAY, opening wide on January 9th, 2015.