** (out of 5)
January 9, 2015
Joaquin Phoenix as LARRY “DOC” SPORTELLO
Josh Brolin as DET. CHRISTIAN F. “BIGFOOT” BJORNSEN
Owen Wilson as COY HARLINGEN
Katherine Waterston as SHASTA FAY HEPWORTH
Reese Witherspoon as PENNY KIMBALL
Benicio del Toro as SAUNCHO SMILAX, ESQ.
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I know there are plenty of film buffs out there that absolutely adore Paul Thomas Anderson’s work. However, while I can respect the artistry he has in making his movies, his recent films have failed to win me over with much passion.
It’s not that I dislike them. For the most part, I give them decent ratings, and I enjoy them for what they are. “The Master” was well composed and interesting. “There Will Be Blood” has a lot of power and craft to it. “Punch Drunk Love” is one of those few films that reminds us that Adam Sandler can actually act.
Still, I don’t think Anderson has made a film as good as his sophomore effort “Boogie Nights” almost two decades ago. That’s one of my favorite movies of all time, and I doubt he’ll ever top it, no matter how serious and award-worthy his films become.
His new picture, “Inherent Vice” is a bit of a diversion from his recent works. Instead of being deadly serious like “There Will Be Blood” and “The Master,” “Inherent Vice” is a comedy at heart. However, it’s far from a standard, mainstream comedy. So, don’t look at the cast list and say, “Oh hey! Owen Wilson and Martin Short are in this. I loved both ‘Wedding Crashers’ and ‘The Three Amigos’!” If you do that, you’re gonna be sorely disappointed.
“Inherent Vice” is based on the 2009 book of the same name, which some have said is unfilmable due to its disjointed and non-narrative nature. After watching the movie, I tend to agree with this take on the matter, and perhaps the book is still unfilmed. But doggone it if Anderson doesn’t give it the ol’ college try.
To attempt to summarize “Inherent Vice” is an exercise in futility. There is no middle ground. Either you blurb a one-sentence brief that describes the set-up but fails to live up to the complicated film (such as: “A 1970s private detective tracking down his ex-girlfriend’s rich, philandering boyfriend.”), or you spend so long breaking down the story that you end up with a summary almost as long as a standard review (such as the film’s Wikipedia entry).
Still, either choice would be a valid one because when it comes to “Inherent Vice,” plot and story really doesn’t matter, for better or for worse. The film throws a lot of plot at you, but very little of it makes any sense or is relevant to the film itself. It’s really just all noise, an impression that comes from the characters’ drug-fueled lifestyle.
I suppose this is ultimately the point of the movie, to experience the film and let it wash over you as psychotropics would over hippies in an opium den. If you’re into that sort of thing, this movie will connect with you. If you’re like me – that is, someone who really isn’t turned on by that – then the film is a mess. It’s a pretty mess with some great acting and interesting presentation, but it’s a gooey, epic mess nonetheless.
So as a mainstream film that is designed to engage your average audience and make everyone laugh, the film fails in a spectacular, almost mind-boggling way. In fact, this film is so anti-mainstream that it’s nearly impossible to follow at times, or to make heads or tails of the plot.
However, much to the likely chagrin of Warner Bros. and the money decision makers behind the movie, this isn’t for the mainstream at all. Instead, “Inherent Vice” is for the die-hard P.T. Anderson fan, the kind of fan that studies every frame of his films and will drive six hours to see him present the film on 70mm in person.
While I’m a huge fan of “Boogie Nights,” I’m not exactly a P.T. Anderson fan, so the film as a whole was entirely lost on me, even if there are certain elements that are fascinating and entertaining.