#REVIEW: “INHERENT VICE”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Paul Thomas Anderson is the ultimate love or hate Filmmaker. His Films – which include Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood and The Master – are some of the most decisive and polarizing Films made in the past two decades. The Man knows what he likes and is one of the rare Filmmakers who makes Films for himself first, and for the Audience second. And his Adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice is no different. In fact, it may be his most polarizing film yet.
The 60s are done and the 70s are just beginning. Private Investigator and Drug Enthusiast Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is visited late one evening by his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston). She is distraught and worried about a potential plot against her current Beau, Philanthropist and Real Estate Mogul Michael “Mickey” Wolfmann (Eric Roberts). Doc decides to look into it, and both Shasta and Wolfmann quickly go missing afterwards. And the deeper Doc looks, the more shady Characters, coincidences and danger he discovers.
Straight up, your enjoyment of Inherent Vice will hinge on whether you read Pynchon’s original Novel or not. Anderson has created a loving and almost perfect recreation of the book – one of the best Novel-to-Screen Adaptations in recent memory. His attention to the little details is impeccable, and the Film just looks fantastic.But Anderson has also recreated the challenging, inane and often ludicrous dialogue from the original source as well – which leads to a unique and frustrating situation. I had not finished Pynchon’s novel before seeing the Film, but found it increasingly difficult to understand what I was reading. The same thing happens in Anderson’s Film, except we are not afforded the opportunity to re-read for clarification. He manages to eliminate some of the more rambling and tangents sections of the Book, but other sequences are just as hard to watch as they were to read.
But giving credit where credit is due, the fact that this adaptation works in even the slightest sense is nothing short of a miracle. There are issues beyond the ease of comprehension (like if Joanna Newsom’s Sortilège is an actual Character in the Film, or if she is a Narrator that only Doc can see) and a few curiosities (did Pornstar Michelle Sinclair/Belladonna’s Character really need to be the one who likes spending time with two guys at once?), but Anderson’s outstanding skills behind the camera really strengthen the faults of the source.
Anderson has also delivered a top notch cast for the film, featuring small or bit parts for Maya Rudolph, Benecio Del Toro, Owen Wilson, Martin Short and Reese Witherspoon. They all do wonderfully, no matter how short their screen time is. Josh Brolin turns in a scene-stealing performance as Doc’s nemesis and part time Friend Lt. Det. Bigfoot Bjornsen, and Waterston is downright haunting as Shasta. One lengthy Monologue scene goes still and unbroken for over ten minutes, focusing on her emotional, fragile and stark naked body. Her presence on-screen is intoxicating, and really helps complement how truly fabulous a performance she gives. But the real joy of the Film is seeing Phoenix let his hair down and not be so damn serious. He brings the same amount of intensity here as he would to a Film like The Master, but he is clearly having a total blast at all times being able to act goofy and smile. Looking back, I cannot even remember the last time he played a Character even remotely close to comedic.
I really wanted to love Inherent Vice, but feel it will be the kind of Film that will only benefit from age and the amount of times you re-watch it. Anderson has made a fantastic adaptation of a really difficult novel, and complements it with fantastic performances by Phoenix and Waterston. But I fear its pacing and verbose nature will deter and turn off audiences in droves (not to mention the 148-minute runtime). So tread lightly.
Warner Bros. Pictures Canada release INHERENT VICE on Christmas Day in Toronto, with additional cities to follow.