D/W: Paul Thomas Anderson. DP: Robert Elswit. Starring: Joaquin Phoenix/Josh Brolin/Katherine Waterston/Benicio Del Toro/Eric Roberts/Owen Wilson/Jena Malone/Serena Scott Thomas/Joanna Newsom/Maya Rudolph/Reese Witherspoon. (Based on Thomas Pynchon’s novel of the same name)
Maybe it’s because I love to read detective fiction? Maybe it’s because I used to live in LA? Maybe it’s because I find Joaquin Phoenix an anomaly no matter what he does? But, I really liked Inherent Vice.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2012 film, The Master, was a slog for me. Despite being intense and methodical, it was also long, dense, and moved at a snail’s pace. His new film, based on Thomas Pynchon’s novel, demands more attention as its crime story is brilliantly foggy and told through a haze of a smoker’s sense of memory as Doc (Phoenix) takes a private eye case with personal connections. But can a man do when his old flame shows up at his place needing help with her new one? Especially when she looks like newcomer Katherine Waterston.
Anderson has never been committed to straight forward narrative story telling, which is part of the challenge of enjoying his films. Inherent Vice is not an exception to this. The film demands your attention from start to finish not just as a piece of visual work, but as a piece of sound. Anderson forces you to lean in and listen intently to whispered conversations veiled by a stoner’s point of view. Compounded with a deliciously retro soundtrack and sly narration the film is not that hard to follow and more enjoyable for those who their PIs a little shaken.
Inherent Vice also luckily has fabulous costumes from Mark Bridges whose worked on all of Anderson’s films and incidentally also costumed Fifty Shades of Grey. Reese Witherspoon’s small role alone left me imagining a follow up film about her and that hair. Reese is one of many smaller roles with namey actors, Benecio Del Toro has a great scene rescuing Doc from the police station. Phoenix is certainly the pulse of the film, fluidly melting into stoner’s world complete with sideburns and sandals. His spars with Det. “Bigfoot” (Josh Brolin) are hysterical and ground the film for certain scenes.
Although I cannot speak to the novel’s adaptation, Inherent Vice has a lush sense of place with Venice acting as a kind of breathing heaping hot spot left on a couch after a stoner has been slumped in for days. The longer I take with the film the more I think about its maze like storytelling that I wonder if the rest of Anderson’s work is ready for a revisit. Inherent Vice is clearly not for everyone and I’m okay with that.