Though there are some of his works that people tend to enjoy more than others, Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the rare directors you can make the case has yet to make a bad film.
Will ‘Inherent Vice’, the first film adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel, break the streak?
1970, Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is a perpetually high private detective who is surprised by his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston) who comes to him with a case. Big real estate developer, Mickey Wofmann (Eric Roberts) is, apparently, in danger of being set up and institutionalized against his will by his wife and her lover. After some digging and discovering some missing money, Doc is framed for the murder of one of Wolfmann’s bodyguards by Detective Christian ‘Bigfoot’ Bjornsen (Josh Brolin). He is eventually released but not until he finds out that Wolfmann has recently disappeared.
Further digging reveals that this is much more than a plot against Wolfmann. This involves some very large sums of money and some very shady dealings.
Reports of the plot being convoluted are fairly accurate. Many details of the plot were left out of my synopsis. There are a lot of characters to keep track of during the course of the film, though later reflection will reveal that many of them only have minor roles to play and need not be over-estimated. We aren’t talking about a plot like ‘The Big Sleep’ where even the writers were confused, this is somehow tightly constructed yet a little sprawling. As happens with some of these stories, this is a long film, but it doesn’t feel that long.
Some of this fuzziness comes from Sportello who barely seems to know what he is doing from scene to scene. He is a likeable slacker whose pursuit of his next high and general sense of purpose in the case tends to lead in the right, if generally roundabout, direction. This mild befuddlement (and yet, he is as dumb as a fox) provides some of the comedy here. Mainly the laughs come from his style juxtaposed with his surroundings.
Doc’s relationship with almost every character is best described as being ‘complicated’. There is a mix of disrespect, condescension and fondness that nearly everyone shows him and it’s difficult to get a read on so many people. What is their true motivation and what are their intentions? With so many characters to sort through, a few people who get fairly high billing really only contribute a scene or two.
Special features include: a series of trailers that give a little glimpse into the time period, Shasta and The Golden Fang, respectively. There is also a dream-like collection of barely connected extra scenes. It’s a mystifying and mostly unsatisfying collection of extras.
‘Inherent Vice’ lives up to the huge expectations placed upon it by Anderson’s previous accomplishments while also having a bit more universal appeal than some of his more obtuse work. Come to think of it, this is probably his most ‘watchable’ film since ‘Boogie Nights’, not to take anything away from his work since then and not to overstate the coherence of this film which is very suspect. It takes a real sense of adventure to try to tackle a fairly lighthearted neo-noir, seeing as that borders on being an oxymoron.
Rated R 149 minutes 2015