This past weekend, to order to take my mind off of a lot of personal issues, I went to the movies.
While there, I saw an ambitious adaptation of the work of a well known author in the hands of a well known director, with a strong cast of players that unfolded over the course of two and a half sometimes meandering hours.
I can honestly say it was one of the most disappointing film experiences I’ve had in a while.
…wait a second. Oh yeah, nevermind. Elessar covered the last of the Hobbit movies.
So let’s talk about Inherent Vice, shall we?
Cheeky intro aside, a lot of that description isn’t far off the mark. Critically acclaimed director Paul Thomas Anderson reuniting with Joaquin Phoenix in an adaptation of a book by the elusive Thomas Pynchon? I was already half sold before the trailer even hit.
Thankfully, this one did not disappoint. At the same time, I will acknowledge that it’s not going to be a darling for everyone.
Based on the book of the same name, the story concerns Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello (an almost unrecognizable Joaquin Phoenix in hippie garb and mutton chops), a hippie-cum-private investigator working in the LA area in 1970.
One fateful day, Doc receives a visit from an old flame (Katherine Waterston). She explains she’s now the other woman in a relationship with a prominent land developer (Eric Roberts in a brief, but amusing appearance). Said developer’s wife is plotting, with her own lover, to have her husband committed to an insane asylum so she can take his money and wants Doc’s ex in on the plan. Not wanting to hurt the man, she turns to Doc for help.
Still with me so far? Good, cause here’s where it gets weird. Doc’s investigation turns into a trip down one Hell of a rabbit hole – prostitutes, neo-Nazi bikers, informers, dentists, a heroin cartel, murder charges, and a stoic cop with a penchant for brutality (a hilariously stone-faced Josh Brolin) all come to a head in this investigation. If I go into any more detail here we’ll be here another hour and I’ll have spoiled half the movie for ya.
See what I meant about this not being one for everybody?
At its core, Inherent Vice is a noir story, complete with all the twists and turns therein. In this regard, Anderson navigates the material fairly well. There are a few ‘where the Hell did that come from?’ moments to this, to be sure. Some of that, however, is a side effect of the source material. In the end, the movie still concludes itself fairly neatly, rather than feeling like a complete puzzle at least. It’s just a Hell of a ride getting there.
It’s certainly an entertaining one. If there’s two things Anderson has developed a knack for in his movies over the years it’s been strong direction/cinematography and pulling together a great cast.
In the former case, Anderson has done a great job of capturing the 1970 feel. I don’t just mean this in terms of how everyone looks, either. The movie itself even feels like a movie of the time period in some regards. This even going so far as to the point it almost looked like scratches were added to a digital screening of the movie. Which, if that was what I thought I saw, nice touch. Overall, the movie takes a daunting concept and boils it down to the point where it hits a decent balance of faithful but accessible.
In the latter case, it is a bit unfortunate that we don’t get to know many of the characters for very long due to the length and scope of the story (it IS a common noir element). Still, the actors all make up for it just through the ways they make their impressions. It’s a case of execution making all the difference over lack of material. Especially in the cases of characters like Phoenix and Brolin, where a large part of the humor of their roles is more in how they carry themselves than what is said or done.
One other note I will say for this movie on humor – keep an eye on what’s going on around the main characters. Not so much for the alleged Pynchon cameo (though if you find him, feel free to let us know) but rather because this film has a fair number of bits of humor being played in the margins. Even better is the fact that it doesn’t really call attention to a lot of them, instead playing the odd moment as completely normal, and becoming funnier in the process.
Is this Anderson’s best to date? I can’t say that in all honesty. At the same time, it’s still a very welcome return to comedic form for the man and one that does a good job of off-setting its shortcomings to still make for an entertaining, if somewhat insane, piece of retro noir.
In the end, I can only say just so much to sell you on this without spoiling anything. If you have any interest, it’s just one you need to see for yourself.
But it is worth it.
I’ll be getting things back on schedule here soon. Sorry guys, it’s been a Hell of a week.
Till next time.
-Great acting from a talented cast
-Anderson well suited to the material, both in terms of translation and capturing the feel for the period
-Thanks to the sheer size of the story, a lot of characters are fairly limited, however well played
-Parts of the story…well…Pynchon gonna Pynchon. It can get confusing is what I’m trying to say