Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most talented and diverse American Filmmakers working today. His body of work has moved from mainstream narrative (Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia) to an odd, scattershot attempt at comedy (Punch-Drunk Love) and intense character studies (There Will Be Blood, The Master).
Inherent Vice, based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon, is both a narrative (while not necessarily mainstream) and very much a character study.
The film concerns the itself with the misadventures of small time private investigator Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), who takes on a strange case from, and involving, his ex-girlfriend, Shasta Fay Hepworth, a day before she disappears. Doc’s still pining for Shasta, and his inability to let her go drives him forward through a menagerie of strange characters and dicey situations, each one more dangerous then the last. The story is a case within a case within a case, and the film has the feel of a 1950’s Noir film, yet is told through the colorful kaleidoscope of the psychedelic 1970’s counterculture crash.
Here - maybe the trailer will help.
The acting is superb. Anderson is a director who encourages his performers to go out onto the tight rope and see what happens, even if they fall. Phoenix and Brolin are outstanding as cultural polar opposites, and Katherine Waterston turns in one of the bravest performances I’ve seen in some time. Martin Short, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro and Owen Wilson are all superb in their supporting roles and add wonderful flavor to the simmering stew.
The cinematography, as with any Anderson film, is top notch and captures not only the colors and relicts of a bygone era, but the the thick and stoned out atmosphere as well. There is a lot accomplished with slow, simple moves of the camera to tell big pieces of the story.
Inherent Vice is worth your time, if you’re willing to give it. Its not going to be for everyone (I saw people walk out) and its not going to make a lot of sense to those looking to turn their brains off for two hours.
I suppose I sound like a cinema hipster when I say I enjoy films that demand my attention and make me think about what I’m watching. I’m okay with that. It’s not that I don’t enjoy films with just enough story DNA to get you from one explosion to the next, but cinema is an art form, and there should be room for something more substantial then car chases and computer generated talking animals.
Inherent Vice is the sort of film I wish I saw more of. The kind that entertains and challenges you at the same time.