Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Can't Place My Finger On Inherent Vice

Paul Thomas Anderson makes weird movies. That's kind of his thing. But Inherent Vice takes that statement to a whole new level.
This is the first film adapted from the author Thomas Pynchon's work. And it's got a plot far too convoluted to explain, but I'll try anyway. In 1970s Los Angeles, Doc (Joaquin Phoenix) is a private detective smoking his days away while he's not trying to solve a case. But one day his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston) shows up at his place in tears telling him about a conspiracy she's been drawn into to stick her current boyfriend (who's actually married) in a looney bin. The story just gets weirder and weirder from there. But always with a sense of fun and intrigue.
I guess when I say I can't place my finger on Inherent Vice, what I mean is I like it but I don't really understand why I like it. This movie feels like an anomaly. It's like P.T. Anderson's attempt at making his own The Big Lebowski. But he being who he is found a property that perfectly encapsulated exactly what his version of that would be. It's baffling. It's mesmerizing. It almost shouldn't work, but then something comes along and gets you back on the same page. There are too many names by half and too many organizations trying to be involved, but that doesn't seem to matter. Somehow the relationship between Doc (Phoenix) and Bigfoot (Josh Brolin) holds power over the audience. Neither character makes sense by themselves, but at some point they both begin to make perfect sense with each other.
Joaquin Phoenix does a good enough job here. Though at stretches he is impossible to understand and the looseness of some of the scenes, particularly early on, seems to work against his current acting style making him feel like he's sitting in some low-level acting class trying to remember how to breath and talk at the same time. But like I said, he mostly gets it done. Josh Brolin is great! He's entertaining to watch, knows when to chew the scenery and when to reel it in, and his character choices are precisely what is called for at any given time. To be honest, I'm surprised he's not getting any Supporting Actor buzz. Katherine Waterston is a joy to watch here as well. I didn't know her very well before this flick, but I'll be looking for her in the future. It's also really cool to have Joanna Newsom in there as the narrator. She's got such a wonderful voice which she'll usually display in music, but P.T. had the insight to let her voice color his own film in a different way.
On the surface, Inherent Vice seems like it shouldn't work. It's just too overwhelming and weird. But a great director with a quality cast... and a little bit of elbow grease... gets it done here. This is a flick worth seeing in theaters.

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