Review | Inherent Vice
It doesn’t happen frequently, but every once in a while a movie like Inherent Vice pops up. The seventh film from unique director Paul Thomas Anderson, it offers a awry, confusing narrative that’s likely to leave a major portion of the audience lost in it’s 2h30 loony acid trip in the 1970’s. It’s not the most confortable of experiences – and I wouldn’t say satisfactory, also – but it certainly is fascinating.
PTA himself adapted Thomas Pynchon homonymous book, and the plot… Well, let’s try and organize this in a coherent way. The plot sets off when hippie detective Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is surprised by his ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay (Katherine Waterston), begging for his help when she uncovers a plan from the wife of her lover, Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), to throw him in a mental facility and take over his fortune. At the same time, Doc takes on two different cases that are somewhat connected to Wolfmann: the disappearance of a sax player (Owen Wilson) and the escape of a bodyguard suspect of dealing with neonazis. That’s it, mainly.
Structurally, Inherent Vice is a mess, but weirdly that doesn’t have to be a flaw – depending on the point of view. The different plots mixs together through weird slang driven dialogues, compromising the narrative’s flow and the comprehension of the big picture (I myself had to read an abridgment on Wikipedia to fully understand the turning points and all the conections). We can safely state that the fast paced narrative, populated by a zillion characters and events reflects Doc’s own mind, dominated by paranoia and confusion, only a few side effects of his constant use of weed – ad Robert Elswitt’s cinematography wisely bets on scenes where the character finds himself surrounded by fog, also paying the proper homage to cinema noir’s iconic look.
Making the audience seeing through the eyes of a dope is an intersting experiment, and PTA maitains a masterful technique when conducting long shots and close up framings, often centered on dialogues that branch out in a curious way (one provocating scene envolving Doc and Shasta is already one of the high marks of the PTA’s career). There are a lot surprises and twist-and-turns, with bizarre humor playing a wonderful part, mostly due to Joaquin Phoenix loony performance, totally immersed in the detective’s role. The stellar cast also has great moments from Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Martin Short and Katherine Waterston, whose mere sensual presence is absolutely hipnotizing.
The film also has a very inspired soundtrack (wheter is Jonny Greenwood’s original score or the vast playlist from the 70s) and a production design that creatively explores a Los Angeles inhabited by bizarre, colorful creatures. Wheter it’s a crazy hippie reunion that recreates Michelangelo’s Last Supper with pizzas or the exccentric cult found by Doc during the investigation, PTA’s vision stands out.
Even with several qualities, Inherent Vice won’t fully work for everyone, as a movie and experience. It has moments of true cinematographic masterclass, but it’s a hard film to follow, and very easy to be confused, definitely requering a second viewing.