Dr. Donna Copeland’s
JOAQUIN PHOENIX JOSH BROLIN OWEN WILSON BENICIO DEL TORO REESE WITHERSPOON
Most people either love or hate Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies; Boogie Nights and Magnolia were both Oscar nominated films. Anderson’s work evolved with the debut of Punch Drunk Love (showcasing Adam Sandler in his first serious role) and then again with the best picture nominee There Will Be Blood, earning Daniel Day Lewis a second Academy Award. In 2012 The Master started another shift in tone and narrative, and of course more nominations for the actors. Inherent Vice is Anderson’s 7th film and least impressive.. With another stellar cast, Anderson is the first director to adapt a novel by National Book Award winner Thomas Pynchon.
It’s 1970’s beachfront Los Angeles and Doc Sportello (Phoenix) lives in a haze; when he isn’t being a private eye, he is either snorting, smoking or huffing. When a vison of his ex-girl Shasta (Katherine Waterson) appears in the doorway of his bungalow, he doesn’t recognize her dressed in “mainland” clothes, but she needs help getting out of a dire situation. After the smoke clears and the SoCal sun rises, the renaissance detective begins his investigation into a real estate mogul's (Eric Roberts) disappearance, butting heads with local conservative law enforcement (Brolin) and stumbling on quite a web of conspiracy.
I would venture to say the reason Pynchon hasn’t been adapted before (he has been writing since the 60’s) is that the complexity and difficulty of his work isn’t vastly appealing, nor is it easy to adapt on the screen. Anderson seems to be up for the challenge; it’s a similar feeling to Sofia Coppola’s work, personal interest in subject matter. There are so many nicknames and characters; thankfully, almost all of them are played by big names so you don’t have to remember them. It’s comical in its own way due to the irony of the writing, Anderson’s own twisted sense of humor and Phoenix’s ability to literally fall all over the place keep you from walking out of the theater, but just barely.
What Inherent Vice lacks in structure it substitutes for endless bouts of mindless dialogue about theories and motivations rarely advancing the story. Actually ¾ of the way through the 140 minute film the investigative part of the narrative is all but dropped; Doc is so high on grass that he can’t think straight. We never really cared about the case Doc is trying to solve, though; it’s a backdrop for Anderson to explore the era that he seems more interested in than we do. If all of Anderson’s films are more like an experience, then this is probably the worst experience I have had with the director. I didn’t care for the score, sets, and even the cinematography feels so much weaker than his previous work.
Final Thought – Acclaimed director Paul Thomas Anderson’s weakest film yet.
By: Dustin Chase
One has to be willing/able to be immersed in the surreal to appreciate Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film based on a Thomas Pynchon novel, one that pointedly comments in a mood piece on the world of the 70’s in America, particularly California. Numerous references disparage the hippy culture (expressing the attitude of law enforcement at the time) while, at the same time, casting an envious eye on parts of it.
The story is complex, with characters appearing and disappearing in multiple relationships. Joaquin Phoenix, in the major role as “Doc” Sportello, is a private detective who has had his own brushes with the law, specifically with Lt. Det. Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin). One of the many humorous moments in the film is when we learn that Bjornsen’s nickname comes from his frequently knocking down doors with his foot. Doc has the vague sense that Bigfoot is using him, but doggedly pursues a case brought to him by former girlfriend Shasta Hepworth (Katherine Waterston). Since he is still hopelessly in love with her, he cannot refuse, although the information she gives him is cryptic (something like, the wife of a current lover and her boyfriend are scheming to have him committed to a mental hospital to get his money. She stands to gain if it’s successful).
Soon after, Shasta and her lover the wealthy Wolfman (Eric Roberts) disappear, and Doc uses all the connections and leads he has—including Deputy D. A. Kimball (Reese Witherspoon)—to track them down. In the process, he is approached by Hope Harlingen (Jena Malone) to find her missing—presumed dead—husband, Coy (Owen Wilson), who was threatened by criminal forces as a result of becoming an informant to the FBI.
In a series of big flourishes, all the scenarios are cleverly related to one another into a coherent—sometimes comedic—whole, thanks to Pynchon’s and Anderson’s skilled pens. The viewer has to be patient, but we do finally get the overall impression of the period even if through a foggy haze of smoke, stoned characters and music of the time (music by Jonny Greenwood), and are entertained by a bit of a spoof on the detective story genre.
An intelligent spoof on the detective genre.
By Donna R. Copeland