Inherent Vice, film review by Arthur Glover

Inherent Vice, film review by Arthur Glover

Inherent Vice film review

written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

based on the novel written by Thomas Pynchon

starring Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin

What a trip. I was one of the lucky few that got to witness Paul Thomas Anderson’s gonzo new film at this weekends AFI Film Festival, making its west coast premiere in Los Angeles. It wasn’t easy. Anticipation is over the moon for this film, and both showtimes yesterday held seven hundred plus fans in round the block lines. No one really knew what to expect from this film adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s phantasmagorical novel, and after the credits rolled I’m not sure most people in the theater were able to comprehend what they just watched. That doesn’t mean we didn’t enjoy the hell out of it though. There’s no way I’m giving away any of the film’s secrets, but I’ll set it up for you.

o-INHERENT-VICE-facebookThe novel, along with Anderson’s film version, is about a stoner private eye named Doc Sportello. This surf noir opens with him lounging out at his house in the fictional town of Gordita Beach, in 1970’s California, when suddenly his ex-girlfriend Shasta(Katherine Waterston) appears seemingly out of nowhere, and talks about a kidnapping plot involving her millionaire boyfriend, and his wife, and her secret lover. While she lays out the details, you’ll be as overwhelmed as Doc is as he listens. Then Shasta goes missing. And with that, the tone of the film is set, as we watch Doc investigate one mystery to the next, introducing a stream of random characters, including an undercover saxophone player(Owen Wilson), and a coke and sex addicted dentist(a looney Martin Short), and many others, as he butts heads with the menacing cop Bigfoot Bjornsen(a hilariously scene stealing Josh Brolin) . To help us navigate through the thick fog, we have stellar narration by Earth goddess Sortilege(Joanna Newsom), speaking from Doc’s head and Pynchon’s written words, giving a model of how film narration is done. Everything seems to revolve around something called The Golden Fang, which is either a mysterious boat, a heroin cartel, a tax dodge set up by dentists, or all of them, and more.  And while Doc bounces around Los Angeles, you’ll feel as stoned as he is, whether it’s the numerous joints Doc smokes, or methane, or god knows what else, making you as paranoid as him when the film’s plot puts a haze over you. Frozen bananas are sucked, people are killed, and more joints are smoked. And Anderson does the book proud, making a grand experience of what things might have been like in the 70’s.

Okay, a month after initially seeing the film at AFI Fest, a few bumps have stood out to me. It would’ve been nice to see more of 1970 Los Angeles, when the great Robert Elswit’s colorful cinematography stays focused on Pynchon/Anderson’s characters. And it’s clear that the film is more of a collaboration between Pynchon and Anderson, since it doesn’t feel the same as the filmmaker’s previous films have, never holding his signature touch.

But with what Anderson has translated from Pynchon’s novel, boy does he still deliver. And the performances, despite how brief most of them are, couldn’t be better. Joaquin Phoenix is perfection at expressing the confusion on Doc’s stoned face, unsure of why the world is the way it is. And Josh Brolin, as the door-stomping Bigfoot, hasn’t been this great in years. And the acid-surf score by Johnny Greenwood is merely the cherry on top.

By the film’s final third, you’ll feel like you’re in a half-awake dream, as Doc exchanges final words with narrator Sortilege, who visibly sits next to him in his car. It is at this point, that audiences might start dividing.  Like Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous work, you won’t fully appreciate it until you really think about it, and take it on. It may not be the film of the year, or better than There Will Be Blood or Boogie Nights. But come on, this is PT Anderson, a cinematic poet like no other, who invites you in to leap into his creative abyss. And his vision of Inherent Vice, a mind-bending landmark, will give you a high like no other. It will stay in your system for days.

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