Inherent Vice (2014)

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Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, Jena Malone, Joanna Newsom, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short

Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson

148 mins. Rated R for drug use throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Costume Design

 

Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, The Master) is known for making strange movies. That isn’t a bad thing. His films always feel like a director throwing paint on the wall and turning it into a work of art. Oftentimes, he dazzles with flair and style, which complements the acid trip well.

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Anderson’s newest film, Inherent Vice, follows Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix, Gladiator, Her) as he investigates the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston, Michael Clayton, Being Flynn). This journey takes him through a series of strange encounters with people like Lieutenant Detective Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin, W., Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), Coy Harlingen (Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris, No Escape), and Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd (Martin Short, Frankenweenie, The Wind Rises). Doc, an out of place hippie in the evolving 1970s, must make his way through the web of convolution and find out the truth involving several missing persons and a few Nazis to boot in this adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel.

Joaquin Phoenix dominates here as Doc Sportello, a role seemingly made for him. His chemistry or lack thereof, is pretty perfect with Brolin, Waterston, Short, and Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line, Wild), who portrays Sportello’s occasional squeeze Penny, a Deputy D.A.

Brolin plays the hardass cop card so well that I love seeing him onscreen. He offers slight nuance as Bigfoot Bjornsen, a relatively unlikable but totally watchable antihero. Benicio del Toro (Snatch, Guardians of the Galaxy) also appears at Sauncho Smilax, Doc’s attorney, and he is underseen and wonderful. And can I just say how awesome it is to have Martin Short on the big screen as Blatnoyd?

While the acting performances are top notch, the flaws with this film come from a much-too-convoluted plotline anchored by a screenplay more adaptation than actual screenplay. This tactic can and has worked in the past, but here it comes off as a story that belongs on the page. Anderson’s screenplay is missing the stylistic touches that would make it great.

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A lot of this film looks and sounds great, but that screenplay proves that it can kill a movie, and it winds up doing just that here. This movie is somewhat unwatchable and feels more like a director throwing a lot of paint at the wall and creating property damage. Sadly, I had hopes.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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