Inherent Vice (2014)

8 Jan

Paul Thomas Anderson, known for his recent exploration of introspective personalities with films like There Will Be Blood or The Master, returns to creating ensemble work with Inherent Vice, the first filmic adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel. Pynchon is known for his complex narratives with dizzying amounts of characters and Anderson does a great job letting that complexity come to the surface here. In fact it’s too great.

The convoluted story starts with a private investigator named Doc (played by Joaquin Phoenix) having a conversation with his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterson) about a Los Angeles real estate mogul named Wolfman. This evolves into a kidnapping conspiracy where Shasta plots to have Wolfman’s wife’s lover committed to an insane asylum in an attempt to take his money. And that train of thought dissolves into dope-riddled and paranoia fuelled investigation when Doc and his lawyer (Benicio Del Toro) cross paths with a determined cop named Bigfoot (Josh Brolin), an FBI drug junkie/informant (Owen Wilson) and his wife (Jenna Malone) and Doc’s DA girlfriend Penny (Reese Witherspoon) and her involvement in a sketchy dentist operation led by Dr. Blatnoid (Martin Short) and his 18-year old lover Japonica (Shasha Pieterse) and how her dad might have a connection with Bigfoot’s former partner, and something about a ship called the Golden Fang and lots and lots of hallucinogens. All the while, Doc’s experiences are being narrated to us by a character named Sortlilege (Joanna Newsom) who may or may not just be a figment of Doc’s odd imagination. I couldn’t spoil this film if I wanted to because I’m still not sure what happens.

Anderson’s seventh film really gives us a lot to chew on. Right from the offset, Inherent Vice never takes a break from characters spouting out information to each other in classic noir fashion. So and so has gone missing; so and so is protected by the aryan brotherhood; so and so has the cops watching their back. The movie makes a point to tell us we should be caring about what’s going on, but the quick pacing and sprawling stream-of-consciousness the film proudly demonstrates makes it so damn hard to actually pay attention. In his dedication to staying true to Pynchon’s signature narrative style and tone, Anderson has made us lose track of why we should even care. At a massive 148 minutes, the films far too long, even though the audience barely gets time to think about what’s taking place between the scenes of loaded dialogue.  The many bizarre characters give us something to giggle about from time to time, but Inherent Vice is far from a crowd-pleasing comedy and the narrative is composed of little puzzles stacked against each other.

The biggest puzzle of all might be that this is directed by the same man who gave us Punch-Drunk Love and Magnolia – two of the best examples of character examinations in modern cinema. Why then does everyone in Inherent Vice seem so distant an unrelatable? Perhaps in his uncompromising attempt to capture the multiple details of Pynchon’s web (that works so well in literally form) Anderson forgot his most important role is to please his audience.

It might be a misfire from the man Ben Affleck praised as “a modern day Orson Welles“, but there is still something entrancing about Anderson’s wacked-out period piece. Maybe it’s the groovy free-flowing style or stellar production design or the many sexy-but-subtle performances that make Inherent Vice worth the watch – just don’t expect to make sense of what you are actually watching.

Rating – 6/10 

Similar to: Boogie Nights, The Big Sleep, The Big Lebowski

 

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