Saturday, 21 February 2015

Review: Inherent Vice

Year: 2014 (U.K Release 2015)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, Jena Malone, Joanna Newsom, and Martin Short.

Synopsis is here:

I don’t know where to start or what to say. Inherent Vice; Paul Thomas Anderson’s seventh feature film, is scuzzy, meandering and near meaningless. It’s a shaggy dog story, which is even less accessible than Anderson’s previous film; The Master (2012), which had many screaming in maddening frustration. I say this as if I had an issue with the film. I write those words as if I had hated my time I spent with Doc Sportello and the gang of misfits we’re introduced to.

I didn’t hate Inherent Vice. If anything I may have already found my first favourite film of the year. By the time Vice had its final credit run up the screen. I had myself having to convince myself that I didn’t have the time to watch the film again. I went to the nearest retail store and brought the soundtrack instead, to tide me over until I have the space in my schedule to for some more cinema time, or even worse, wait until the Blu-ray. I just wanted to spend more time in this world, with these characters immediately. I loved the film that much.

If anyone was going to create a rambling, blissed filled homage to the noirs of old, it had to be Anderson. Inherent Vice maybe an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s equally as wandering novel, but it’s also another chance for Anderson to let his shoulders droop, reference his favourite influences and get a little loose after two of his most austere features to date.

It may be a cop out to say this, but Inherent Vice is a film about mood and character rather than story. It's a film dictated by its time and location as opposed to anything else. A world of mumble mouthed hippies, jive talkers and dopers, whose time is spent stumbling around looking for what they've lost. Plot flitters into view and yet remains out of reach. Red herrings swerve manically into view, taking time to roll up some grass and talk about nothing. This is a vacuum left by the death of the swinging sixties. The revolution lost by the dreamers and won by the squares. It’s a tad silly to try and pinpoint the logic of these people and the shaggy dog tangents they cook up. Spend enough time with these guys and you release: “What makes sense to these guys?”

“We blew it” was the hotly contested line of 1969’s Easy Rider. Often considered as a remark that hints at the end of the counterculture lifestyle enjoyed by Billy and Wyatt. Vice often feels like we’re watching the walking dead of that culture, looking to soak up any remnants that may exist. Doc (yet another superlative Joaquin Phoenix performance) appears to be taking case after case to fuel his drug habit more than anything else. Yet the real drive of the story is the disappearance of his girlfriend Stasta, who originally sets him on his merry way of missing real estate developer, shady crime syndicates and new age cultism. Each “case” shows at least one aspect of how the hippie culture slowly began to eat itself. As does the recurring talk of Charles Mansion, whose crimes linger in the air like a sour stench. Once Stasta disappears, we nearly only ever see her again in hazy flashback and drifting transitions, almost as if she was a dream and that as an actual entirety, never really existed.

Younger, alleged film writers like myself can only really dream of this era, but the way Anderson and cinematographer Robert Elswit capture the sun kissed beaches, creepy upscale asylums and run down brothels is so remarkably textured and authentic that it makes a strong impression. Yet despite its lazy, slightly woozy surroundings, a strong element of farce and slapstick often pervades and punctuates scenes. Much Like Elliott Gould in Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973), Doc is a private eye whose street smarts give him high cultural currency, yet his cluelessness about just how the strings of his cases are being pulled, allowing a large amount of comedy at his expense. For a film which is often at times highly melancholic, in a genre that was always considered to be grim, it’s refreshing to see just how often Anderson (a big SNL fan) goes for hard laughs.  Gleefully aiming at the sheer preposterous of it all.

Despite the talk of the film’s murky and multiple plot lines, I found the main intentions of the film to be abundantly clear (in my eyes). Of course, while the actual message of the film lie within the eye of the beholder, I feel it’s safe to say Inherent Vice is a wistful film about loss. Every character is found wanting and chasing for something that either no longer open to them or disappearing in front of their eyes. Like all of Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest period of films, Inherent Vice has its director peering into both the deaths and beginnings of eras and revolutions and observing the fallout through their failed relationships. Vice is not only is the most nostalgic of Anderson’s recent endeavours, amusingly harking back to the heady days of Boogie Nights (1997). Looking at Vice with all its exasperated plot strands, paranoid theories and generally warming glances back at nostalgia, manages to help establish Anderson as one of the most entertaining chroniclers of modern American history currently working.