A series of film reviews and opinion pieces from a film student and all round movie lover! Happy reading!
“If it’s a quiet night out at the beach and your ex-old lady suddenly out of nowhere shows up with a story about her current billionaire land developer boyfriend, and his wife, and her boyfriend, and a plot to kidnap the billionaire and throw him in a looney bin, maybe you should just look the other way…”
The simplified plot line to the latest Paul Thomas Anderson picture that has divided audiences like nothing else.
Having just attempted to make sense of the previous smothering of perplexing plot explanation, I’d say that if that was too much to handle, I’d also look the other way. “Inherent Vice”, the highly anticipated sleek new release that showed significant promise has delivered in some ways but has also plummeted into confusion, self congratulation and overall disappointment.
Although the plot is convoluted and scattered on an epic scale (to the point where it’s longer than the novel it’s based upon), there are several positives to take out of picture, but ultimately, this one was a severe letdown which is gut-bustingly painful to admit.
“Paul Thomas Anderson has done it again!” has he really though? Set in a fictitious ’70’s beachside town, “Inherent Vice” tells the story of Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), a private investigator/chain-smoking hippy pothead, and his escapades throughout this town searching for different people and encountering various characters along the way.
There is an underlying plot that deals with deception, unfaithfulness and crime, but above all, “Inherent Vice” felt like a series of euphemistic conversations hidden behind the facade of cinematic style and ’70’s sheen.
I’ll mention the positives, and they’re relatively expected. It’s a Paul Thomas Anderson film so there are things to expect. Things such as a brilliant cast, exceptional performances (particularly that of Phoenix), beautiful cinematic craft and an overriding stylish tone are all exhibited within “Inherent Vice”, and it’s very impressive. It’s just the story that is so gruellingly alienating and it is a major flaw.
Furthermore, although the cast list is extensive and star-studded, there are several members who are significantly under-utilised.
The refreshing sights of Owen Wilson, Martin Short and Eric Roberts are ones that are short lived and saddening due to their wonderful presence on screen. Martin Short is particularly exciting and scene-stealing, however the list continues. The likes of Benicio Del Toro, Maya Rudolph, Reese Witherspoon and even Jillian Bell have moments that are also too short and upsetting, but nevertheless, it’s good to see them all together in the same picture having a lot of fun.
As Maya Ruldolph puts it when describing her very tiny character, she’s “One of the many elements of getting to know Doc.” It is ultimately “Doc’s” story, and the list of smaller characters act as a way of exploring him in greater detail, but those smaller characters are often really great to watch, and a little more from each would have added a lot to the viewing experience, for me at least.
The two standout performers are of course Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin. The central figures in the narrative, these two have solid chemistry and wonderful contrasting attitudes, mannerisms and overall build-ups.
The wonderful figure of Lt. Det. Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen could very well be Brolin’s best character to-date. He has a great backstory and character ark, plus he sells the stern but comical qualities very well. Although it was the best part about the trailer and I watched it several times over before seeing the film itself, Bjornsen’s “Multo Panacakeo” rant is equally, if not, more entertaining when put into context. It’s also the funniest part of the film.
“Doc” is also one of Phoenix’s best characters. It is obvious that the role was made for the man, and to be honest, I truly think that Phoenix should have been considered for a Best Actor award at this year’s Oscars.
The film, with it’s extensive 145-minute runtime, was very demanding of Phoenix as he occupies almost every single scene. The dialogue, costume changes and embodiment of “Doc” overall requires a lot of an actor, but Phoenix really captures the goofy essence of this endearingly confused hippy P.I. His physical comedic qualities are faultless as well!
So all in all, I may simply be an idiotic film viewer who is easily confused and unable to follow a storyline. Nevertheless, “Inherent Vice” dissatisfied me and proved itself to be a letdown. The performances aren’t the problem, nor is the direction of the film. It’s the dialogue and overall screenplay that just didn’t work for me.
Sure, it was true to the era in which it’s set, plus the character delivery sets the tone and mood very well. It’s just when a story doesn’t make sense and challenges it’s audience to keep up after 4 minutes, you have a serious problem.
If you’re a PTA fan like myself, definitely seek out “Inherent Vice” and see how you go for yourself, there are definitely lots of elements to enjoy. However, be prepared with an open mind, an unrelenting attentiveness and the Wikipedia plot page open beside you to help you keep up.