Saturday, January 10, 2015

Review: Inherent Vice (2014)

           'Inherent Vice': Paul Thomas Anderson's Trippy Noir Opus

        Leave it to directing auteur Paul Thomas Anderson to take a noir film about hippie culture in the 70's and turn it into a film-watching experience that works as a haze-filled odyssey which takes the audience along for its crazy ride.

       Inherent Vice follows the story of 70's stoner detective "Doc" Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) who is called upon to investigate the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston) and her boyfriend. But Doc then finds himself tangled up in a web of paranoid yet oddball mystery.

       I'll start off with the performances. Joaquin Phoenix delivers yet another 180 from his previous work in films like Her and The Master as a laid-back, pot-smoking detective who may or not may not have an alert mind. Josh Brolin is a scene-stealer as Doc's partner Christian "Bigfoot" Bjornsen and plays a really colorrful character who hates hippies despite having deep respect for Doc and has a penchant for penis-shaped foods, indicating that his love-hate relationship with Doc might be sexual tension or frustration. Both Brolin and Phoenix had great chemistry and their scenes together were some of the film's high points. Reese Witherspoon is also in this as a DA that Doc has an affair with and despite having a smaller role, this performance os yet another example of the banner year she had with this, Wild, and Gone Girl, which she produced. A few others who have smaller roles are Owen Wilson, who plays a drug-induced saxophone player that goes missing and this is a completely different role for him as he isn't necessarily playing the happy-go-lucky type he is known for playing. Martin Short also has a small part as a rather creepily comical and sexual dentist and he also nailed his part. Lastly, one actress I'd love to acknowledge is Katherine Waterston as Shasta. She is also rarely on screen, yet when she does appear, she lights up the room with her winning smile and innocence. She makes you realize why Doc is so enamored with her and will even have you falling in love woth her. I can't wait to see what the future holds for this young actress.

      Next, I'll get into the direction and writing by Paul Thomas Anderson. But first, I'll go into the writing. One of the chief complaints I've read is that the film doesn't have much of a coherent plot or storyline, but it doesn't seem like it is meant to. I think that because the film is set in the 70's, Anderson meant to structure the film together as if it is an acid trip, like how Martin Scorsese structured Goodfellas as if it is an adrenaline shot, and have us curious as to whether our main character is paranoid or not since there are these conspiracies involving Charles Manson and such. But, I would say if you plan on watching this film, try not to overthink it. Just let it take you in on its rather uncanny ride and if you choose, try and piece the puzzle together yourself. I also loved how even though there is plenty of talking in the film, I was still pretty hooked and part of it may be thanks to how Anderson uses long takes to keep my eyes glued to the screen. Lastly, I'll give a shoutout to cinematographer Robert Elswit who helps add to the whole mystery surrounding the film by shooting it very luminously and colorful with something dark potentially lying under the surface as Doc takes himself into this haze-filled odyssey.


      Overall, Inherent Vice is a loose and haze-filled yet complex story filled with colorful characters and performances, stylistic direction/writing by Paul Thomas Anderson, and luminous cinematography by Robert Elswit.

      Would I Recommend It?:
      If you demand coherent storytelling and not having to piece the puzzle yourself, then you may want to skip this. But if you are more open to these types of movies or if you are a fan of the cast and Paul Thomas Anderson, you might get something out of it.

Grade: A-