To my surprise I found a showing for a film I actually wanted to see this month. I am relieved to not be stuck with Taken 3… which I am also reviewing. Without further delay, here is my critique of Inherent Vice.
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I would not say I am a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson (PTA), but I like his films, at least the ones that I have seen. There Will Be Blood was the first movie I ever analyzed, Magnolia showed me a side of Tom Cruise I never thought existed, and The Master was just very, very good. Where the stories are not exactly original, the way PTA tells them, with artful direction and fantastic performances from the entire cast, makes for a great watch. So is Inherent Vice another exemplary feature, or something else entirely?
Not only is it something else, Vice exists on a whole other plain. This is a film so insane you will find it hard to comprehend anything upon reflection.
The film begins with “Doc” Sportello, played by Joaquin Phoenix, a drugged-out PI, receiving a visit from his ex-girlfriend Shasta, played by Katherine Waterson. Shasta lets him in on a plot to have her current fling, a successful real-estate tycoon, thrown into a mental institution in a bid to steal his money. Doc takes the case and embarks on a ride wilder than he anticipated.
What starts as a simple noir detective story in 1970’s Los Angeles turns into a multi-layered journey of Lovecraft-ian insanity. I am exaggerating of course, but I dare you to see this movie and try to understand exactly what is going on. You are given so much information that eventually becomes impossible to piece together because everything else is a mess, a beautiful, hilarious mess.
Arguably it is a simple film, but the way it is directed and how the actors play their parts, takes you through so many loops you become convinced you are as high as the characters on screen. It inspires not confusion, but obnoxious fits of laughter; you will be out of breath and questioning everything at the same time. Imagine The Big Lebowski if the whole production was on a cocktail of weed, heroin, and psychedelics. It is quite possibly the funniest movie I have seen this past decade and it is impossible to make sense out of it.
For a PTA movie, I feel it is unnecessary to talk about performances because they are always fantastic. Phoenix was an absolute blast, but my money is on Josh Brolin as “Bigfoot” Bjornsen, a clean-cut model police detective, pressed from a mold of John Wayne and Bill Paxton. He represents the unhinged and aggressive nature that has become associated with the LAPD. What happens at the end with his character is so incredible, it puts the “Milkshake” scene from There Will Be Blood to shame.
On a side note, there is a cameo so out-of-nowhere (to me, at least) I let out an audible squee in the theater. I did not feel embarrassment because I was too busy gawking at what was happening on screen.
As far as faults go, I find it difficult to get into them because there are none to speak of, but that does not change the fact there are issues of a subjective nature. Fans of PTA may not like its radical departure from what they are used to. It is almost as if a different person was directing under the name of Paul Thomas Anderson. For newcomers, they will feel Vice’s length, but then again, what else do you expect from people who like Transformers and other worthless schlock. The story can feel incoherent at times, but that is the point. If you are not confused the first hour in, then you are doing it wrong.
All that aside, the humor and performances make up for anything one may find wrong. The funny moments are what sell this movie and they are the reason you should see it, even if it is your first PTA movie.
Inherent Vice is a film that must be experienced. I do not know why you are reading this; you should have been out the door hours ago.