Comedy, Crime, Drama
Warner Bros. Pictures
30th January 2015(UK)
Paul Thomas Anderson
Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Katherine Waterston, Owen Wilson
Inherent Vice is the latest film by American auteur Paul Thomas Anderson. It’s also the first on screen adaptation of the work of reclusive post-modernist author Thomas Pynchon. I high doubt any other filmmaker will never adapt his work to screen again or simply have the balls to attempt to adapt one of Pynchon’s sprawling narratives.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Doc Sportello, a detective who is introduced in a haze of marijuana smoke. His ex Shasta (Katherine Waterstone) askes him to investigate the possible abduction plot of her lover Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts) who is in the real estate business. However not just Mickey goes missing but Shasta does too. Doc gets involved with a cast of crazy characters and everyone is connected somehow, there are cults, drugs, politics and a dentist. At the heart of the madness there is the mysterious “The Golden Fang”. The film’s plot is deliberate incomprehensible in the way the classic Howard Hawks film The Big Sleep, it’s a film which you experience and are entertained by than necessarily following how everything and everyone is connected.
The era depicted in the film is very specifically set in the early part of the 1970; it’s a post-Altamont, Manson time and perfectly captures that Nixon era paranoia. Pynchon and his work are obsessed with the possibilities of 1960s but also that dark paranoid of the 70s culminates in the Watergate scandal in 1972. The film starts with “Vitamin C” by the Krautrock band Can and even though the song is an anachronism (it came out in 1972) it perfectly starts out this drug haze paranoid the film inhabits.
Anderson somehow pulls this all off surprisingly well, his films have always had humour but in many ways this is probably his closest attempt to doing a “comedy”. He has cited the slapstick of Zucker Brothers as key inspiration during his development of the vision for the project and the film is funnier than most comedies The cinematography by frequent collaborator Robert Elswit perfectly captures that sun drenched pot haze look of early American films of the 70s like Altman’s The Long Goodbye.
The film boosts a ensemble cast reminiscent of PTA's earlier Altmanesque films like Boogie Nights and Magnolia. Joaquin Phoenix leads the way with his mumbling stoner detective perfectly. Josh Brolin plays the flamboyant cop "Bigfoot" Bjornsen and is a total scene-stealer, their is a scene with a ice cream that is comedy gold. Owen Wilson gives quite possibly his finest performance as Coy a saxophone player with political connections and who is presumed dead. Jena Malone plays his Coy’s wife Hope and it’s a real shame she doesn’t get more interesting roles like in this. Benecio Del Toro plays Doc’s attorney and Reese Witherspoon plays a DA who Doc is having an affair with. However Martin Short in less than 10 minutes completely steals the film with his cocaine snorting womanizing dentist Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd. Singer-songwriter Joanna Newson as Doc’s imaginary friend Sortilège finally bizarrely narrates the film's proceedings.
Inherent Vice works it’s hallucinatory magic over it’s lengthy 2 and half hours. It’s too long for own good and indulgent but this can’t really be helped to the nature of the source material by Pynchon. Johnny Greenwood's score perfectly melds in-between the songs that heighten the story. The Soundtrack expertly uses songs by Neil Young ( again anachronistic) to give a feel of longing of the past that slipped away under their feet. Neil Young’s look at the time is also a massive influence on the look of Doc.
In closing Inherent Vice is absurdist stoner noir that expertly puts you in the paranoia of 1970 but also has enough humour to work as a comedy. Many viewers will not being willing to buy the ticket, take the ride as Hunter S. Thompson once wrote or will just get too annoyed by the deliberate incomprehensible narrative. However it’s one of the most daring films to come out in long time and should be applauded for that. It’s not PTA’s best film by a long mile or even possibly one of his 5 best but it’s such a rich film in style and scope it will be a film cineastes will be debating and discussing for years to come.