Today the New York Film Festival was buzzing in anticipation of the world premiere of Paul Thomas Anderson's "Inherent Vice". Read on for my thoughts on his new film:
Paul Thomas Anderson is a singular filmmaker. His impressive filmography is as diverse and challenging as they come, especially within American cinema. Still, I don't think any of his previous work can quite prepare you for "Inherent Vice".
"Inherent Vice" is based on a Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name. It centers around a drug-loving Los Angeles detective named Larry "Doc" Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) and his investigation into the mysterious disappearance of his ex-girlfriend. As he attempts to find her, he uncovers a web of shady characters including a sax player, surfers, hustlers, a loan shark, detectives and a mysterious cooperation called the Golden Fang. It's all about sex, lies and dope...and it's absolutely loony.
If you want a fuller plot synopsis, then you're probably better off reading the screenplay. The plot is so intricate that it's almost impossible to keep up with all the revelations throughout the case. It's highly complex but this isn't your grandfather's film noir. Despite being about crime and corruption, this is most definitely a comedy. Not only is it a comedy, but it's a hilarious one. It's "The Big Sleep" populated with the sort of characters you'd find in "The Big Lebowski". Lewd, goofy and irreverent, the script provides ample fodder for its diverse array of characters and the actors portraying them.
Paul Thomas Anderson always brings out great performances from his actors, so it's no surprise that this ensemble is so dynamite. In the center of it all is Joaquin Phoenix, who fits his role like a glove. He nails the character's erratic behaviour, fully utilizing his expressive face and bringing a level of physical comedy that we haven't seen from him before. Half of this film's enjoyment is just sharing that experience of utter confusion with him, as he stumbles into each situation. As great as he is though, there are two other performances that were even more impressive. The first is Katherine Waterston as Doc's elusive ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth. Her fleeting presence in the film recalls the allure of Kim Basinger in "L.A. Confidential", except multiple times better. There's a particular long scene she shares with Phoenix that is just breathtaking to watch. This being a comedy though, it's fitting that the MVP award should go to the funniest performance. That performance comes from Josh Brolin as Lt. Detective Christian F. "Bigfoot" Bjornsen. Collaborating with Doc on the investigation, he steals every scene he's in with brazen vulgarity and fury.
Truly, it's the cast that makes this film work. Without them, the script would make it almost impenetrable for the audience. As is the case with his recent films, it practically demands a second viewing to appreciate it fully. I'm certainly not the only person still trying to figure out what exactly happened in "Inherent Vice". All I know is, I was already looking forward to watching it again as soon as it finished. I may not even understand it any further on a re-watch but at least I know I'll have a good time.
Now, this film doesn't feel like "Oscar bait" but I'm gonna give the Academy the benefit of the doubt. Firstly, I expect Warner Bros. to mount a serious campaign for Josh Brolin and Katherine Waterston in Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress respectively. They're both so memorable and would easily fit the manic sidekick and ingénue types that voters love. Also, I can see writers being quite impressed with the writing, so it could be in contention for Best Adapted Screenplay. Finally, I think there's a slight chance in Best Picture if it can rally enough passion. These nods are probably the best case scenario (and maybe even unlikely considering the under-performance of "The Master"). The taste of the Academy has been unpredictable lately though, so who knows what'll happen. Rating: ★★★★