Inherent Vice – Review

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Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Jena Malone, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, Joanna Newsom, Eric Roberts
Based on the novel of the same name by: Thomas Pynchon
Adapted for the screen and directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Metacritic Score: 81
IMDb Score: 6.9
Nominated for 2 Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Costume Design

Rated R for drug use throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some violence

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the few directors these days that if you see the moniker “A Film By Paul Thomas Anderson”, you must see this movie. His films are unique, classic, divisive, and often contain the best performances from some of the most lauded and beloved actors, including Daniel Day Lewis, Mark Wahlberg, Philip Seymour Hoffman and, amazingly, Adam Sandler.

After his last film, the head-scratcher The Master, the curious move to adapt a stoner comedy/mystery novel was interesting to say the least. And that is an apt way of talking about this movie…it’s interesting.

Set in the drug fueled times of the 60’s, Doc Sportello (Phoenix) is a stoned private investigator whose visited by his ex girlfriend Shasta (Waterston). She tells of a plot that her boyfriend (Roberts) is about to be kidnapped by his wife and her lover. After she disappears, he goes on a case to find out what happened.

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Like The MasterInherent Vice leaves you wondering what exactly you just watched, what exactly was the point and whether or not it can be called good or not. OK, let me explain that last sentence:

I watched Inherent Vice 3 days before and unlike most movies I review, I decided to hold on the review to really contemplate how I feel about the film. In fact, I watched it a second time, which is something I rarely do just after watching a film.

The reason this is not because it’s a wholly complex film (it’s dense, but not complex) but because it’s hard to decide whether a lot of the film is superfluous, has deeper meaning or plays more into the atmosphere of the film.

It’s really rare to watch a film and not be sure exactly how you feel what it is doing and why it’s shooting or creating most scenes. It is kind of a staple of Paul Thomas Anderson, to take a story and give it a discomforting, confusing and baffling edge to it. But Inherent Vice…is even different than that.

Inherent Vice can be best described as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas meets Chinatown meets Cheech and Chong. To put another type of comparison (which I know I’m full of in this one), Inherent Vice is to Paul Thomas Anderson as The Coen Brothers is to The Big Lebowski.

This may very well be Anderson’s most celebrated film in the next decade or so, since there’s so much in the film that can be dissected and enjoyed in multiple ways. As of right now, it’s a movie that’s confounding that it takes a simple plot and turn it into an everything movie that really feels like it is about nothing.

The film is surprisingly dense, even though it is essentially a stoner comedy with detective trappings. In fact, the actual plot of the film seems to be in the backseat throughout the entire film, usually a sign of a story that cares more about details than the flow of character development or plot.

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The details of this movie are very striking, even its simplicity in design. The movie uses its colors to create a striking mosaic of different cultures and situations, which is excellent to watch in different scenes of the movie.

A striking example is the scene in which Doc meets Owen Wilson’s character Coy, which uses clouds, shadows and deep coloring to create a strange, atmospheric vibe that somehow still works in the main verve of the movie.

The dialogue in most spots are incredibly spot on. It’s clear that Paul Thomas Anderson, from adapting Pynchon’s smoke tinged novel, wanted to make sure that the characters all had a distinct and differentiating feel that still enveloped around the strange and funny tone of the film. Brolin’s detective is way different from Doc, which is also very different from Reese Witherspoon’s D.A. character, but the way they interact and are portrayed keeps them centered while being distorted in the blur of the movie’s melaise.

Finally, the performances are excellent in this film, which keeps in its odd tone while still standing out on its own. Phoenix is hilarious and likable as Doc, while you still have no problem with seeing how eccentric and strange the man is. Waterston has an excellent, though truncated performance as well that drives most of the plot in.

The highlight is Brolin, however, who plays an up-tight detective with more than a few screws loose. His unwound, volatile performance makes every scene he is in one to truly watch and appreciate. Upon both viewings, Brolin sticks out as one of the most criminally underrated performances from last year. His use of comedic timing blending with his characters plainness and rage can really only be done with a skilled actor.

There is one issue with the movie that may not be an issue at all to some: there really isn’t much of a plot. In fact, the driving plot ends halfway through the film (sort of) and leads to a more rambling, kind of out of nowhere plot twist that doesn’t really pay off the way the film thinks it should.

Also, the plot is clearly not the main centerpiece of the film, so the movie isn’t concerned with the fact that an hour has gone by and the plot hasn’t progressed. To some, this could be highly problematic to not see what is a simple plot being blown out to 2 hours and 30 minutes. The vast majority of the film is atmosphere and strange happenings, which can feel very dense and wasteful.

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Here’s the thing, film lovers and those who love Paul Thomas Anderson absolutely must see this film. It’s got a style and feeling that is unique in its way of mixing different types of genres, which is helped with excellent performances.

However, as it stands, the movie is a good movie by Paul Thomas Anderson’s standards that seems more worried about meandering in this space than it is cultivating a story. It’s fascinating to watch, but it also can be a hard watch to get through.

This movie has cult status written all over it. Some will adore this movie and swear by it and sing its praises. This movie will have a long shelf life. In fact, it might take years to really appreciate it’s greatness.

For now, it’s a good movie that is worth a look to certain people and from there, maybe others will appreciate it more.

3.5/5 – Lack of plot, character development wholly entrenched in excellent performances and directing by Paul Thomas Anderson. A must see for film buffs and P.T. Anderson aficionados. 

The Wiz Says #17

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