Photo: Doc and Shasta, looking for weed.
Inherent Vice Movie Review
Submitted by special corespondent Richard Noggle
It’s unfair to level a final verdict on an artist of Paul Thomas Anderson’s caliber after a single viewing of his newest film, so let’s think of this as some initial thoughts on his adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice.
I was leery of the first trailers for the film, which suggested a frantic, Lebowski-style farce. Happily, that’s not at all the tone of Vice, which instead takes on a stoned, languid, mellow 70’s California pace that’s well-suited to the novel’s mood once its detached from Pynchon’s hyperactive prose style. Yet perhaps PTA veered too far toward the more rigid and formal style of his recent work in There Will Be Blood and The Master. At times, I wanted him to cut loose into the wild camera-work and sense of playfulness of the Boogie Nights-era. And there IS a bit of this--watch for a remarkable flashback sequence involving our protagonist private eye Doc and his former flame Shasta that begins as a wild comic romp that involves consulting a Ouija Board to score weed but quickly transitions into a beautiful rain-soaked reverie set to the strains of Neil Young’s “Harvest.” In these moments, the film comes to vivid life. But much of the rest seems to exist in a foggy headspace that’s perhaps well-suited to Doc’s worldview but isn’t a particularly enjoyable space for a viewer to inhabit.
Performance-wise, the film is a mixed bag as well. As much as I’ve loved Joaquin Phoenix’s recent work in PTA’s The Master and Jonze’s HER, he doesn’t strike me as the perfect Doc. It’s less the actor’s fault than the character, probably, as the perpetually-stoned Doc is only about half-present in his own life. More successful is Josh Brolin, in a very funny scene-stealing turn as a hippie-hating cop named “Bigfoot” Bjornsen. And Katherine Waterston impresses as Shasta, Doc’s not-so-lost love. As suggested above, PTA finds the heart of the film in the past. As a melancholy meditation on love and bygone eras of California and American culture, it strikes the occasional chord.
And a final warning: if you’re in it for plot, get over it, as it’s fairly impenetrable. In both novel and film, Pynchon and PTA seem largely uninterested in providing the familiar comforts and solutions of the detective genre, which becomes instead a vehicle to unlock deeper human mysteries.
Now, having written all this, I want to see it again, and soon, even though I didn’t particularly enjoy it.