“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- developer boyfriend, and his wife, and her boyfriend, and a plot to kidnap the billionaire and throw him in a loony bin… Maybe you should just look the other way.”
Paul Thomas Anderson’s (PTA) seventh film, Inherent Vice (2014), stars Joaquin Phoenix (I’m already sold) as Larry “Doc” Sportello – a drugged out hippie who does detective work every once in a while. Doc’s ex-girlfriend, Shasta (Katherine Waterson), shows up out of the blue to tell him that her new boyfriend, a billionaire tycoon (Eric Roberts) with a wife who also has a boyfriend, has gone missing. Inherent Vice was originally a novel written by Tom Pynchon and written for the screen by PTA himself. The film takes place in 1970s California and also stars Josh Brolin, Maya Rudolph, Michael Kenneth Williams, Hong Chau, Benicio Del Toro, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, and Martin Short.
PTA has always been a director I admire for his stories, camerawork, musical choice, and editing techniques; and this movie does not fail to give me all of these PTA essentials. The story, I’ll admit, moves pretty fast and often throws curveballs at you without skipping a beat. With Phoenix’s character being stoned throughout about 2/3 of the film, you often find yourself in his shoes playing catch up and figuring out which way is what. Scenes will end in ambiguity, leaving you wanting more and then in the next scene the wait is paid off in ten fold. THEN we are given another twist at the end of the next scene. I didn’t read the book but I would not be surprised if each of these cliffhanger scenes is portrayed like they were chapters in the book. Very good writing on PTA’s part.
PTA’s camerawork is always a marvel. You are never bored with his long takes, whether it is following a character or just sitting in on a conversation. Some of my favorite scenes in the movie are when we see Doc interacting with other characters and they have a simple conversation. The conversation intrigued me and I wanted to know more. Instead of cutting to a closeup of the character(s) talking, instead the camera slowly moves in on the two people conversing as if I’m being invited in to listen more. The motion is so fluid and seamless that I didn’t even notice the camera moving until it was after the fact. This goes along with the editing process too. There’s no doubt in my mind that the camera team got coverage of all the characters talking in the scene; but to stick to the one shot of the two of them, I felt more in the scene and more attached to what they were saying as opposed to cutting to a close up of Owen Wilson and taking me out of that scene for that one moment. Also PTA did the RIGHT thing for a 70s movie and shot it on 35mm film; but he didn’t stop there. He even jacked up the ISO (Film terms, look ’em up) and overexposed the frame to give it that grainy 70s look that many cinephiles will welcome with open arms (At least I did). The music is also one of the best parts of the movie. Lots of 70s music like Sam Cooke and more. Basically if you put on a “Marvin Gaye Pandora Station”, it would end up in Inherent Vice
With all of this said, the absolute best part of this movie for me was the acting and performances from all the characters. Joaquin Phoenix is no doubt the main character, and the story is told in a third person subjective point of view. I often thought some scenes were more hallucinations than reality, which my friend Ryan who read the book said that that’s what he thought while reading. Phoenix is as brilliant as he always is, and he gives it his all in every scene. However whenever he has a scene with another supporting character like Lt. Det. Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Brolin) or Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd (Short) in the scene, THEY steal the scene. Every person in this movie I loved and I thought they killed it. I mention Brolin and Short specifically because they were no doubt my favorite two supporting characters in the entire film.
Inherent Vice is surreal, kinky, and a stoned epic of mammoth proportions. I loved this movie from start to finish, and while it will certainly go down as one of, if not my favorite movie of 2014, it pains me to worry it won’t get any oscar love due to its unconventional nature. However I highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of PTA or anyone who acts in the film.
Overall Rating: 9/10 – Amazing
Certainly one of my favorite PTA movies behind Boogie Nights (1997) and There Will Be Blood (2007). It’s funny, it’s mysterious, it’s overwhelming at times, and at other times it can even be touching. Great camerawork, acting is phenomenal, and one of my favorite soundtracks of the year.
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