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Inherent Vice

Nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay (Paul Thomas Anderson) at the 87th Annual Academy Awards

Nominated for Best Costume Design (Mark Bridges) at the 87th Annual Academy Awards

Everyone knows I ADORE the work of director Paul Thomas Anderson. “The Master”, “There Will Be Blood”, “Punch-Drunk Love”, “Magnolia”, “Boogie Nights”…all found a spot in my annual top ten during their respective years. I’m even quite fond of his freshman effort “Hard Eight” (aka “Sydney”), which I saw after 1997’s “Boogie Nights” made him a star. His work always connects with me, and I could always decipher what he was up to. Until now. Because after two complete viewings, I’m still unable to connect all the dots in “Inherent Vice”. That’s not to call it a bad film–at times it’s just plain great. But there are junctures where I felt completely lost. Is that my fault? Anderson’s? A combination of the two? Whoever’s responsible, I can only give Paul partial credit for his latest. Maybe it will all kick in for me some day, and I’ll realize what a fool I was. Or maybe not. Occasionally it feels great. And undoubtedly it looks great. It’s probably the best time capsule of the early 1970’s I’ve yet to witness on film. Cinematographer Robert Elswit turns in genius work here.

Joaquin Phoenix is private investigator Larry “Doc” Sportello, and Phoenix is superb…as always. Josh Brolin is Detective Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen, and he’s pretty awesome too. Along the way there’s a mystery, a lot of pot smoked (would that’ve aided?), and roles and cameo appearances by a diverse group including Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon Benicio del Toro, Michael K. Williams and Martin Short. But it’s Anderson’s own intricate screenplay that is the true star here, yet there were many times when I just couldn’t crack it. I’ve heard that this is the most accurate rendering of a Thomas Pynchon novel ever filmed. Well, as of yet, I’ve never read Pynchon, and often I was just plain befuddled during the film. But then there’s that scene of Sportello and Katherine Waterston’s Shasta Fay Hepworth character running in the rain, and I realize what beauty there is here too. Or there’s the bit where Brolin’s “Bigfoot” orders pancakes, and I understand how funny “Inherent Vice” is. Or a final shot of an illuminated Phoenix, and I come to terms with how magical the movie can be. There’s greatness in “Inherent Vice”, but I am distressed that I haven’t found it all yet. I’m going to continue to try though. And if I crack this nut, you’ll be the first to know. For now, I don’t know whether to be disappointed in Anderson–or myself.

Grade:  B+

next review up:  “Gone Girl”

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2 comments on “Inherent Vice

  1. Good review Mark. Absolutely wacky and wild, but also, a pretty fun movie that constantly throws something new, or exciting at you next with reckless abandon.

  2. Thanks, Dan. Yeah, it is fun, and I’m not sure why I’m not connecting with it completely. Maybe another round will do the trick. ML

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