Thursday, January 1, 2015

Inherent Vice review

It's only after the smoke clears and the euphoria wears off that we can look around at it all and ask "What just happened?" Cinema, pure and not-so-simple. That, my friend, is what has just happened. With Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson has deconstructed the gumshoe detective film genre and created one of the best novel adaptations of the past ten years. When I first saw the trailer for the movie, it looked quite a lot like a return to the hyper-energetic fast moving Anderson of the 90's. The man behind Boogie Nights and Magnolia. That couldn't be further from the truth. Inherent Vice is Anderson at his most constrained and wistful. He completely abandons elaborate and exuberant camera moves for slow dollying in on characters and very relaxed tracking shots, perfectly fitting the film's tone. This is the kind of movie I'd imagine an elderly man sitting on his front stoop in a rocking chair telling as he watches his fragile life slip from his fingers. It plays as a fondly looked back upon memory, with a hint of regret. It is very fitting Neil Young's song "Journey Through the Past" accompanies the soundtrack. The film takes place on the verge of change. An era of hippies and long-haired relaxation specialists being pushed to the fringes of society. The violent advent of Charles Manson certainly hasn't helped anything. Larry "Doc" Sportello (played by Joaquin Phoenix) is a good-natured P.I. holding on to the past with the help of plenty of marijuana and late night pizza. He's just a guy who wants to stay cool and do the right thing. Like a bowling ball dropped through a window, Doc is plunged headfirst into a complicated case involving a supposed dead saxophone player, a mysterious organization that might be a boat called the Golden Fang, and many other loose strands that require a very clear head to keep in place. The plot isn't as hard to follow as some may have said, but it doesn't matter. The convoluted case isn't what's important in this movie. Like it's spiritual predecessor The Big Lebowski, Inherent Vice is a movie about characters, tone, and setting. The many complications of the plot are also due to Anderson lampooning the noir genre, which is notorious for its numerous complicated plot strands. Just look at some famous examples like The Maltese Falcon or North By Northwest. They are all over the place, and that is part of their genius! Anderson understands this perfectly, and uses all of it to his advantage. The novel Inherent Vice is a personal favorite of mine and its writer, the famed Thomas Pynchon, is also a writer I admire very much. PT Anderson is also a fan of Pynchon. His film here is not just hero worship. He is taking his knowledge and love of film and applying it to his love of the work of Thomas Pynchon to create a perfect Pynchonion vibe filtered through the pot haze of early 1970's California. It's nothing short of beautiful. One thing Anderson added in that was not in the novel is voice over narration from one of the secondary characters, Sortilege (Joanna Newsom). In adding this, Anderson was able to capture Pynchon's wonderful use of language and apply his own personal literary touch. All of it works to near perfection. This was shot on 35mm, and it looks stunning on the big screen. There has been a shift toward shooting on digital recently, and this film is proof that film is a medium that still has its place. The whole thing looks gorgeous, mainly because of the celluloid it was shot on. It certainly helped that Robert Elswit, a long-time cinematographer for Anderson, was working here. He is one of the best (the best?) cinematographer working in Hollywood today and deserves some recognition for his work here. Holding it all together are the wonderful ensemble of actors working here. Joaquin Phoenix, channeling his inner Dude, does some great work (as expected) here. He truly embodies his character and never hits a wrong note. Josh Brolin plays a macho cop and opposite side to Phoenix's detective. Brolin has always been good. But this here may be his best work. He is funny, yet subtle, and delivers some of the movie's best lines. Joanna Newsom is great, Katherine Waterson is great, Benicio del Toro is great, Reese Witherspoon is great. Really, everyone is great. Overall, it's a masterpiece. A pot-fueled, funny, wistful, journey through post-60's California. While it might not be There Will Be Blood, Inherent Vice is more or less the best new film I've seen in 2014.


  1. Really great review! I asked myself "What Just Happened" after it ended haha. I do know that I was close to loving it. I think I'm going to re-watch it tonight. I'm hoping I end up liking it even more. Is There Will Be Blood your favorite PTA film?

    1. Thank you! I rewatched it last night and I definitely love it. I think There Will Be Blood is PTA's best film but Boogie Nights is my favorite.

  2. Most of the film is simply a series of conversations between Doc and a revolving door of oddballs.