Much has been said about the novels of famous recluse Thomas Pyncheon- with the most notable being that they are practically unfilmable. Taking on the difficult task of adapting one of Pyncheon’s most loved novels, Inherent Vice, is Paul Thomas Anderson, one of the most acclaimed directors in Hollywood today.
Anderson, famous for There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights and most recently The Master, amongst others has always had a distinctive ability to recreate a mood and a time period to perfection. There Will Be Blood chronicled the rise of capitalism in America, Boogie Nights took a twisted look at the American porn industry and The Master was a fascinating character study into the lives of two men living in post-war America. One reoccurring theme throughout all these films is the idea of the American dream and in many ways, a broken America. His latest film is no different- Inherent Vice follows Doc, a ramshackle PI working on three different cases simultaneously.
Set in 1970, the America is which Doc lives is one in a state of confusion. The 60’s are coming to an end and so is the idea of free love. Nixon is about to take office and the world is still coming to terms with the Manson family and the things associated with it. Doc himself is very much a man with his own set of ideals, even those ideals aren’t as welcome as they once were. He bumbles between cases, bumping into zany dentists, neo-nazis, cult leaders and underworld gangsters, looking like a man lost in time.
Anderson creates a wonderful, kaleidoscopic atmosphere- his film, like many detective noir dramas starts simply enough- ‘There was a man’ but with in 25 minutes in it is clear that this is a movie that is going to take various rewatches. Anderson’s plot tangles itself expertly into a number of different webs as the film progresses and we as an audience are left just as confused as all the characters as to what is going on and who we can trust. Anderson’s film is a wonderful ,paranoid picture- one which once again manages to perfectly capture the chaos of the time it is made in. It is all very confusing, but it is all very deliberate.
All great directors need their leading man and it looks as though Anderson may have finally found his in Joaquin Phoenix. After playing Freddie Quill in The Master Phoenix returns this time in the lead role as Doc. Bumbling his way through the film with some perfectly timed slapstick humour and a razor sharp script, Phoenix is a joy to share the lengthy 150 minute run time with.
Working alongside Phoenix in one of his best performances to date is Josh Brolin, playing Detective Christian Bjornsen, or Bigfoot as he is nicknamed. The two provide the movie with its funniest moments, with Bigfoot providing the perfect chalk to Doc’s cheese. Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro and Reese Witherspoon also gives great supporting performances whilst Katherine Waterston is hypnotic as Shasta, the woman who starts Doc on his wild goose chase through the film. Joanna Newsom narrates the film, providing a goddess like quality to Anderson’s script which at times lifts pieces straight from Pyncheon’s novel.
Needless to say the film looks exquisite. Robert Elswit, cinematographer for Anderson in the past shoots on 35mm and adds a wonderful air of authenticity to proceedings. His LA has a vintage feel, like looking back on some lost, nostalgic world, whilst regular collaborator Jonathan Greenwood provides another knock out score, with his music accompanying a sound track that consists majorly of Neil Young.
All in all Anderson continues his incredible run of knock out films here with Inherent Vice. Think Tarrantino meets Hunter Thompson on acid and you’re somewhere close to the atmosphere Anderson has managed to create here. A challenging, humorous and overall brilliant feature Inherent Vice is a film that is no doubt destined for various rewatches and inevitably cult status.