I was fortunate enough to see this at the 52nd New York Film Festival;
the centerpiece of this year's festival, Paul Thomas Anderon's Inherent
Vice (adapted from the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name) will no
doubt divide critics and audiences. It certainly divided me.
Immediately, the plot starts rolling. "Doc" Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix in his '70s glory; mutton chops and scraggly hair), a pot-head private detective, is disturbed by the arrival of his ex, Shasta Fay (Katherine Waterston). She clues Doc in on a mysterious plot to kidnap a real-estate mogul (Shasta's current boyfriend) for his money, and the scrappy "gum-sandal" ventures off into the the beach-towns and high-hills of California. Receiving help/hindrance from his "friend" at the LAPD, Lieutenant "Bigfoot" Bjornsen (a clean-cut, hippie-hating Josh Brolin), Doc rubs shoulders with no shortage of strange and potentially-dangerous characters. And that's about as much plot as you're going to get out of me. Doc's adventures are almost episodic, and connecting the dots from A to B to... G? can be difficult. I have a somewhat-strong idea of how things unfold, but the specifics are lost on me. And I even read the book! However, I believe this wasn't entirely accidental.
In describing Inherent Vice, Anderson has made reference to all kinds of classic detective stories and zany comedies. On the Hitchcock classic North by Northwest, he said "Tell me again how he (Cary Grant's Roger Thornhill) gets to the middle of the field with a plane after him? I can't. How does he get to Mount Rushmore? I don't know, but it's great." PTA goes for a film that is high on emotion and fun situations and low on intricate story. I describe it by saying "There's a lot of story, but so little of it matters," and that's in the best way possible. Doing so allows Anderson to focus on his eclectic cast of characters.
Phoenix's Doc is most-definitely comparable to The Dude (Jeff Bridges) of Big Lebowski fame, but he's a far more human character than "The other Lebowski". He has opinions, he's far more active and realistic than The Dude. He has moments of violence (one in particular that shocked me and, I'm sure, the other thousand people in the theater). The trailer's narrator mentions something like "Doc's not a do-gooder, but he does good." An apt description. Complimenting this burnt-out detective is Josh Brolin's charismatic badge-holder, "Bigfoot". Brolin plays Bigfoot as a straight man whose anger can burst out in comical brilliance. Even ordering pancakes with this guy is funny. The supporting players are equally on their game, but they have such little screen time it really boils down to Phoenix and Brolin. Martin Short appears for a scene that many I know are already considering to be the film's funniest; Owen Wilson plays a great character whose very nature I find hilarious; Katherine Waterston is excellent as Shasta, being morose and desperate. The others among the star-studded cast are all at least "good", but I won't delve into their roles, which are more like cameos.
Now, it may come into conflict with what I've just said, but to me, Inherent Vice isn't particularly hilarious. The trailer certainly makes it appear to be an almost Tarantino-esque crime/comedy, but truly the tone is more melancholic. It's not a "downer", but the pale, sort of washed-out cinematography of Robert Elswit is far more subtle and restrained than something like Pulp Fiction or Anderson's own Boogie Nights. This came as a shock to me, as many were touting Inherent Vice as (paraphrasing) "Anderson's most-anarchic film since Boogie Nights". Perhaps so, but it never reaches that film's levels of kinetic energy and life. It's the yin to Boogie Nights' yang, to get metaphorical. It's more The Master than Magnolia, to keep the comparisons coming. However, with Inherent Vice, Anderson applies some of his hallmarks in new and interesting ways. His incredible tracking shots in Boogie Nights are replaced with more subtle long takes that will sometimes follow the action, but often stay nearly-static on a conversation for minutes. This immersive, unflinching approach allows you to become invested in the performances.
Similarly, Anderson's knack for putting together a soundtrack is tested in a new way. Rather than blaring '70s rock tunes, the Jonny Greenwood score and licensed tracks are included in a far more subtle way. Greenwood's score ranges from classical noir-ish tones to beach-like guitar music. It's an interesting choice, and one that didn't immediately strike me upon first viewing.
Some have called Inherent Vice meandering, and I'd say they're partially right. Depending on how they mean that. It wanders like a lost dog, yet clearly there's a story going on. It's fragmented, maybe like Doc's mind as he's stoned, but it isn't exactly a first-person view we're getting. It's odd, to say the least, but not in an in-your-face way. It's odd because you'll walk out likely-unable to connect the story, but you'll remember distinct scenes. Even those scenes though, may have subverted your expectations.
My "review" here probably sounds inconclusive, and that's because I'm still not positive how I feel about Inherent Vice. It's definitely worth seeing; Anderson is an incredible force with a pen and some film stock (nicely, we were shown 'Vice on 35mm; referring to the Film Society of Lincoln Center's slogan, Anderson said something like "Tonight, film really DOES live here!"), and I truly believe him to be one of the all-time greats already, with only seven films under his belt. So hopefully my little pontifications have been of some interest. Able to hold you over until this goes limited in December, or for some of you, wide in January. Temper your expectations, take the trailer with a grain of salt, and I'll see you on-line when it opens again--I need to see it again!
Action / Comedy / Crime / Drama / Mystery / Romance
Action / Comedy / Crime / Drama / Mystery / Romance
During the psychedelic 60s and 70s Larry "Doc" Sportello is surprised by his former girlfriend and her plot for her billionaire boyfriend, his wife, and her boyfriend. A plan for kidnapping gets shaken up by the oddball characters entangled in this groovy kidnapping romp based upon the novel by Thomas Pynchon.
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April 11, 2015 at 06:48 PM