Warner Brothers Studio
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
By: Alex Young
Paul Thomas Anderson has proven himself to be one of the most original voices in American cinema since his hustling debut with Hard Eight. PTA made some of the most densely layered and incredibly atmospheric films to come out of Hollywood in the last twenty years that are equally thought provoking as they are visually diverse. His entire catalogue has daring examples of the endearing power of cinema that’ll have tears dancing down your cheeks from endless laughter and will render you speechless from the tyrannical acts of depravity shown within his characters. The diversity of his films reveal Anderson seamlessly shifts through time periods and subject matter like a cinematic maverick by the way he translates his emotionally charged harrowing chronicles of American life onto the silver screen.
Look at the blazing depiction of the adult film industry and the loss of innocence that comes with it in Boogie Nights or the isolated loneliness and healing power of romance in Punch Drunk Love. His films range from the terrifying look at the black heart of capitalism in There Will Be Blood to the psychologically turbulent effects of absolute power in The Master. Anderson delivers a sizzling portrait of the groovy 70’s in the mind-bending plot boiler of his adaptation from the Thomas Pynchon novel Inherent Vice. If you’re looking for a funk-fuelled head-trip that’ll leave you spinning in this comedic crime caper, then buckle up baby because this is your ticket.
Inherent Vice spins the story of the pot smoking and beer-guzzling private detective Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) after he gets a visit from his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterson). Shasta spills her guts about a scam to get her new boy toy, real estate tycoon Michael Z. “Mickey” Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), locked up in the loony bin by his wife Sloanne. Sloanne and her boyfriend are looking to get Shasta in on their hustle so they can score the fortune Mickey has tucked away. There’s only one hitch with getting Mickey to wear a straight jacket: he’s disappeared up in smoke off the face of the earth. Doc weaves his way through underground LA as he tangos with senior citizens moonlighting as strippers, Nazi biker gangs, hippy snitches, crooked lawyers, ball-busting LAPD detectives and shady FBI agents. The supporting cast pops off like a stick of dynamite and features scene-stealing performances from Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Owen Wilson and Martin Short as a sex-crazed cocaine fueled dentist with a hidden agenda.
Anderson takes the audience on a convoluted journey that is comprised of marijuana-fuelled fantasy and cold hard facts almost seem too weird to be true. PTA makes a valiant effort to include as many essential components of the plot within the novel and stays incredibly faithful to the source material. It may take many moviegoers and PTA fans alike a few viewings to wrap their heads around the film because the story unfolds like a riddle lost in a maze wrapped up in a paradox. The final chapter of the film certainly left a little something to be desired, but every truly great mystery is never wrapped up perfectly and always leaves a few loose ends to leave viewers thinking.
One refreshing factor about the film is that it continues to see Anderson boldly charge into unchartered cinematic territory instead of resting on his laurels or re-creating any of his previous success. The film certainly succeeds in carrying on the signature tone of the films PTA has directed while including his incredibly unique ability to write for a charismatic ensemble cast. Inherent Vice provides a truly original experience for anyone looking for something new and different in an age of half-baked remakes and unnecessary sequels to franchises that are better off left alone.