(US - 2014)
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Jena Malone, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, Joanna Newsom, Eric Roberts, Serena Scott Thomas, Michael Kenneth Williams, Martin Donovan, Sacha Pieterse, Sam Jaeger, Timothy Simons, Jordan Christian Hearn, Hong Chau, Jeannie Berlin, Michelle Sinclair, Peter McRobbie, Keith Jardine, Andrew Simpson, Jefferson Mays, Christopher Allen Nelson. (R, 149 mins)
INHERENT VICE, Paul Thomas Anderson's long-planned adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's most accessible, commercial novel, is a wildly careening, frequently meandering shaggy-dog/stoner noir set in the fictional SoCal haven Gordita Beach in 1970. As it plays out, it certainly brings to mind what might happen if someone remade CHINATOWN with Jack Nicholson's Jake Gittes replaced by Jeff Bridges' The Dude, or perhaps The Big Sleep if authored by Kurt Vonnegut. While INHERENT VICE has its share of laugh-out-loud scenes and quotable dialogue ("Molto panacaku!") and comparisons are perhaps inevitable, it's a much darker film than THE BIG LEBOWSKI, almost filled with as much somber sadness as absurdist humor. With its twisting, turning, labyrinthine plot at times akin to trying to watch THE TWO JAKES without ever seeing CHINATOWN, INHERENT VICE is likely to frustrate many moviegoers who think it's the wacky comedy the trailers and TV spots are selling. It is, for the most part, but it's also distinctly the work of Anderson, the guy who gave audiences a cast sing-along and a storm of frogs at the end of the three-hour MAGNOLIA, a film they expected to be a Tom Cruise vehicle, and whose PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE had Adam Sandler fans demanding refunds when they realized it wasn't an Adam Sandler movie. You can draw a straight line from the "Regret" deathbed speech by Jason Robards' Big Earl Partridge in MAGNOLIA to hippie private eye Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), whose days spent in a weed-induced haze are primarily his way of getting over the one that got away.
THE MASTER, is an Anderson film that probably can't all be taken in on one viewing. Where THE MASTER was often impenetrable and cold, it markedly improved on a second and third viewing, once the plot was known and the more intricate details could be studied. With INHERENT VICE, it's due not to thematic complexity and deeper meaning, but simply because there's so many characters weaving their way through the impossibly complicated storyline, which mostly hangs together but occasionally feels like one of those BIG SLEEP situations where the plot is so tangled that the screenwriters adapting Raymond Chandler's novel weren't even sure who killed one of the victims, forcing them to seek the guidance of Chandler himself only to find out that he didn't know either. At two and a half hours, INHERENT VICE marks the first time that an Anderson film actually feels long. Perhaps because it's mostly an engagingly silly stoner comedy (this may have more blazing than the entire Cheech & Chong filmography), the epic length does make things drag at times...not enough to deem it a buzzkill, but for a guy whose past films never feel as long as they are (how many 189-minute films move as briskly as MAGNOLIA?), the bloat doesn't always feel justified here. Still, minor missteps aside, INHERENT VICE is a very good film by a director usually counted on to deliver great ones, one of the few filmmakers whose every new work is a legitimate event, and in the current American movie scene, Anderson's "very good" is still better than most filmmakers' "best."