Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Movie with Abe: Inherent Vice

Inherent Vice
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Released December 12, 2014

It’s rare to find a movie so utterly perplexing that it’s impossible to figure out where to start a review. Yet such is the case with “Inherent Vice,” the latest extremely long film from auteur Paul Thomas Anderson which reunites him with the star of his last film, “The Master.” Joaquin Phoenix was a lost soul easily influenced by others in that film, and here he plays someone perpetually under the influence, getting high throughout the entire movie as his private investigator stumbles his way through a convoluted crime story riddled with sex and drugs that, in spite of itself, may just make sense.

Phoenix plays Doc Sportello, whose wild adventure begins when his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston) shows up to tempt him with a crazy story, one that involves sex, betrayal, corruption, maybe even murder. This mystery doesn’t play out like a typical one might, since there are considerable obstacles to Doc finding the truth but mainly because it’s hard to know whether what he’s seeing is actually happening because of the intense amount of hallucinogenic material being put into his body. He takes short, humorous notes on the case in his little notebook, the most frequent of which is “paranoia alert.” Characters are dressed in full 70s period garb and there’s a distinct and effective dated feel to the film.

There’s no denying that there’s an interesting if ridiculously irreverent tale to be told here. Anderson, as usual, has assembled a fine cast to portray his many zany characters, taking care to give even the smallest part appropriate consideration. After three features with smaller casts, Anderson has made a film worthy of comparison to “Magnolia” in more ways than one. Phoenix is a great choice for the lead role, having come back from what appeared to be a staged break with sanity to break through with “The Master,” and he has just the right commitment and balance of seriousness and playfulness to play Doc. In the supporting cast, Waterston is a particularly remarkable find as the alluring but absent Shasta, and Josh Brolin is terrific and hilarious as hard-nosed cop Bigfoot Bjornsen. Eric Roberts, Maya Rudolph, Hong Chau, Michael Kenneth Williams, Sam Jaeger, Timothy Simons, Jena Malone, Owen Wilson, and Reese Witherspoon all contribute to a stacked ensemble whose minimal individual appearances make for a loaded if disjointed whole. It’s anyone’s guess where the film and its overeager plot are headed at any moment, and what clarity might have been achieved in a satisfying finish is avoided entirely. It’s fair to assess this film as bold and creative, but that doesn’t classify it as a resounding success.


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