Hi everyone, Bryan Here….
Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the best directors working today. His films tell unique and compelling stories with such sustenance and amazing characters that you can’t help but be fully immersed within his world. From ‘Boogie Nights‘ and ‘There Will Be Blood‘ to ‘Punch Drunk Love‘ to ‘The Master‘ and everything else in between, Anderson has time and time again show that he is at the top of his game with each film he puts out.
This is Anderson’s 2nd film in which he’s adapted from a book. The first being ‘There Will Be Blood‘ from Upton Sinclair’s ‘Oil‘, whereas this one is from Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel ‘Inherent Vice‘. Set in 1970, I was hoping this would be an offshoot of ‘Boogie Nights‘, but that’s far cry from ‘Lot 49’, if you catch my drift. ‘Inherent Vice‘ plays out like a kooky noir film with a ‘Dude Lebowski’ type of character weaving in and out of a vast array of whacky characters including hookers, hippies, corrupt police, nazi bikers, new age cults, black power gangs, politicians, pedophile dentists, and wealthy real estate moguls, while all set in 197- Los Angeles under a thick cloud of marijuana smoke.
Our main tour guide through this asylum of oddball characters is Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), a private dick who spends most of us time under the influence of a joint, but for some reason he can navigate the straight and narrow from freaks to the top of the social ladder quite easily. Doc is at his beachfront house when a beautiful girl he used to be involved with named Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterson), shows up to ask for help in finding her secret love sex partner Mickey Wolfmann, a wealthy real-estate mogul.
Much like these fun noir films, there is usually a narrator who helps us along the story. In this case, you might assume it would be Doc, but instead it’s a female voice, whom we don’t know the identity, even in the end. With Wolfmann disappearing, this sends Doc into a whirlwind of characters to deal with including the FBI and local police. One of these detective cops is Bigfoot Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), who is a big straight laced man with a buzz cut who looks like he just stepped out of a 70s police show. In fact he does extra work on ‘Adam-12’. Since Doc is a freak himself, the FBI and local police task him to look for Wolfmann and another man known as Coy Harlington (Owen Wilson), a former saxophone player thought dead, but appears in the flesh in the most the most unlikely places.
Soon enough, Shasta goes missing and everyone starts talking about The Golden Fang, which is some sort of red schooner boat full of drugs and money. But Doc doesn’t solve these cases or go at it alone. He has the help from his attorney friend Sauncho Smilex (Benicio Del Toro), who gives him information on people and cases from time to time, and Penny Kimball (Reese Witherspoon), a high end broad with her hair up by day, but lets her hair down at night and gets high with Doc. Through the nazis, hookers, cultists, crooked politicians, and a drug-fueled dentist with a love of young girls named Dr. Blatnoyd (Martin Short), Doc must keep his cool and journey into the whacky world to find his ex-girlfriends boyfriend.
It’s an interesting movie to say the least. Instead of having a cohesive story line, Anderson more or less goes scene by scene as if it were its own film, and that can be distracting at times. But what really carries this film are its nutso characters and their interactions with each other. The best one being James Brolin’s Bigfoot Bjornsen. He’s might just be one of the funniest and best characters in a long time. One on hand, he’s rude, gruff, violent, and self aware, where in an instant he can be seen sucking on a frozen chocolate banana in a very provocative way. And that just scratches the surface with him. The rest of the cast turn in excellent performances with a spotlight on Katherine Waterson who is unused for most of the film, but shows up towards the end in a powerful yet weird scene that was filmed all in one shot.
Joaquin’s performance is quite good, but with his Doc character, there needed to be a sillier aspect to him. Joaquin of course is one of the greatest actors in the business, but his comedy, particularly his comedic facial expressions are lacking. Instead he’s mostly under the use of drugs and he has a stone like face as he travels around Los Angeles. I just think this character could have benefitted from someone from the comedy genre more. And of course, Anderson has a killer soundtrack full of excellent music from the time period as well as perfect score from Jonny Greenwood.
‘Inherent Vice‘ isn’t going to be for everyone, due to its chaotic storytelling and long 148 minute run time which goes by a bit slow in the third act. But it’s amazing and charismatic characters might just keep you around for the long haul. I just don’t think you’ll be watching this one as much as Anderson’s previous films.
3.5 out of 5 Stars
– Bryan Kluger