Saturday, January 10, 2015

Inherent Vice

I’m something of a connoisseur of weird drug movies, despite having absolutely no interest in partaking myself. There’s something weirdly novel about having a vicarious experience of a drug addled person, and this is a decent enough film in that regard. PT Anderson directed this, and he doesn’t do movies particularly often. Anderson is often cited in the same category as Christopher Nolan and David Fincher of the young, best directors; personally I have only seen There Will Be Blood aside from this. That film was excellent mostly due to Daniel Day Lewis’ performance (I drink your milkshake, I drink it up!), but I haven’t seen the majority of his work so hard to judge.

This film is solid enough but doesn’t hold up in comparison to higher end Nolan stuff or anything (not much does). Inherent Vice is based on a novel by Thomas Pynchon, who I had just read a different book of prior to watching this. Essentially Pynchon books are a random series of events with many of the characters involved randomly appearing and disappearing for chapters at a time, some having only one appearance. Each of these characters is memorable but not impactful enough to drive the story forward. The protagonist is simply an observer of these strange events and he wanders about somewhat aimlessly, perhaps accomplishing something, perhaps not. In this case our protagonist is “Doc” Sportello (played admirably by Joaquin Phoenix), a perpetually high PI in the 70’s hunting down some sort of conspiracy that involves the FBI, the LAPD, Dentists, a 70’s Brothel, and a boat amongst other things.

If all of this doesn’t make much sense to you don’t worry, that’s the essence of Pynchon; it’s still fun enough to read or watch but as far as substance goes it may be somewhat difficult to find. Yes Josh Brolin delivers a fantastic performance, but he’s only in like 35 minutes of this 2 hour and 40 minute marathon.  Apparently every PT Anderson movie is ridiculously long so fans of his surely won’t complain, but as a neutral observer you could probably cut out 25-30 minutes and have a better movie.

There’s a few characters in the film that are just not all that interesting. The initial inspiration for Joaquin’s quest is driven by his preposterously tall former girlfriend who tells him there’s a plot to kidnap a rich land mogul in the area; however said girlfriend is not a particularly good actress and basically all of the scenes with her drag on for too long for no reason. Additionally Doc’s other main protective interest is played by Owen Wilson, who is not a terrible actor by any means but in this he’s simply boring; even though his wife delivers an excellent, totally random 5-10 minute role and then vanishes.

Inherent Vice is not one of the best movies of the year and shouldn’t be treated as such. It certainly has its interesting moments but compared to something like Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans it falls well short. Perhaps if Brolin was the protagonist and in every scene this could have been an excellent movie, but as is it’s relatively underwhelming. The film is still worth watching despite its flaws, particularly if you’re primarily interested in an entertaining, humorous experience.

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