PTA’s Vivacious ‘Vice’

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

 

It’s hard to consider any filmmaker today that has a diverse filmography that rivals that of the legendary Stanley Kubrick, but if there’s one director that comes close to that mark, it’s Paul Thomas Anderson. He has made only seven films in his 20-year career, but almost all of them have left an indelible mark in cinema’s ever-evolving history.

His newest film “Inherent Vice,” based on the “most accessible” novel by author Thomas Pynchon, stands as his most ambitious one yet. Anderson hasn’t been afraid to get more experimental with his narratives and “Vice” shows that effect in creating a richly complex experience that warrants a second viewing for a number of reasons.

In his second collaboration with Anderson, Joaquin Phoenix plays Doc Sportello, a high-as-a-kite hippie P.I. in 1970 Los Angeles that gets approached by his ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston) to investigate the disappearance of her real-estate mogul boyfriend. What ensues is a very dense and complicated investigation that has Doc encountering one eclectic character after another in a haze-filled L.A.

After his Academy Award-nominated performance in Anderson’s previous film “The Master,” it came as no surprise that Joaquin Phoenix would work with him again. Thank goodness their second collaboration together came so soon, because Phoenix’s portrayal of Doc Sportello is utterly charismatic from scene one to the end. Phoenix develops a near-perfect embodiment of a hippie stoner that is both endearing as a committed P.I. and hilarious in terms of his drug-fueled madness.

As per usual in a Anderson film, the supporting cast is star-studded all across the board. Big names such as Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, Owen Wilson and Michael K. Williams pop up throughout Doc’s investigation, all of who deliver solid performances in their limited screen-time.

The clear scene-stealer however is Josh Brolin’s LAPD Detective Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen, whose motivations for getting involved in Doc’s investigation are very cryptic. Brolin’s best roles come from playing characters that are either very stern or oddly hilarious in their demeanor and his role here combines the two into a hugely entertaining character that he fully relishes in its potential to command the screen.

Outside of the human characters, another big one is 1970 Los Angeles, which Anderson expertly constructs with his regular, award-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit. The hazy presentation of the metropolis is aptly fit for its 1970 setting and the overall look matches very well for the way the stoned Doc views everything around him. A lot of the LA locations used in the film are ones that aren’t often seen in more mainstream films, which is a trend of Anderson’s LA-set films that I have always admired.

Anderson’s directorial choices are also heightened with his increased usage of long-takes that last for anywhere from a couple of minutes to one in particular that goes on for almost ten minutes. A lot of these work extremely well, however there are one or two sequences that are stretched a little more than a minute too long.

Lastly, Anderson puts a great twist on the usual P.I. character tropes by showing how Doc isn’t anywhere close to being ahead of the game in his investigation. Hence, the audience only knows as much as he does, which may sound frustrating but is actually quite interesting.

Despite how much praise I’m levying on “Inherent Vice,” that doesn’t mean it will appeal to all cinema-goer crowds. The film’s complicated story and occasional rambling scenes are especially ripe for polarizing reactions. However, for Anderson fans like myself, in addition to those of Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s engaging scores, this movie is a delightfully wacky experience that I’m sure will grow even better with repeated viewings.

 

RECOMMENDED: Anderson strikes again with masterful performances, an incredible musical score and unbeatable cinematography.