Review by Gordon Justesen
Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon,
Benicio Del Toro, Jena Malone, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 148 Minutes
Release Date: April 28, 2015
“Oh, you feel like a cop almost. Don’t ya?”
There’s never been a detective story quite like Inherent Vice. Then again, when blending together the visions of filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson with that of cult novelist Thomas Pynchon, you can most definitely count on something anything but ordinary. Anderson remains one of our most treasured, versatile directors, and his envisioning of a 1970s film noir is definitely something to be cherished.
Reportedly staying immensely faithful to Pynchon’s novel of the same name, so much to the point that barely a word of dialogue was altered in his screenplay, Anderson applies his bold filmmaking skills to a detective thriller that can best be described as Serpico or The Long Goodbye interpreted by Hunter S. Thompson. It’s so bizarre at times that it’s hard to get a grasp of what exactly is going on, but Anderson’s amazing recreation of 1970 southern California as well as that of a remarkable ensemble cast (each giving a hundred percent) both keep you enthralled for the entire two and a half hour running time.
On top of that, it’s a tremendously funny film. Much of the humor comes as a result of the strangeness that occurs in the story. In other words, it’s a film that is definitely up my alley and it’s made even more fantastic since one of my all time filmmakers happens to be at the helm.
In one of the best pieces of casting of recent memory, Joaquin Phoenix delivers a performance that can only be described as pitch perfect. He plays Doc Sportello, a private eye working out of a doctor’s office in Gordita Beach. One night, out of the blue, he is approached by ex-lover Shasta (Katherine Waterston), who has an unusual job for him to take.
Shasta’s current lover, a married land developer named Mickey Wolfman, has gone missing and she believes the culprits responsible are Mickey’s wife and her side lover. Doc agrees to take the job, only to find that others connected to the land developer start to go missing not long after he begins snooping. This includes Shasta herself.
The case also has him locking horns with a Jack Webb-type nemesis by the name of Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (a scene stealing Josh Brolin). After Doc is found unconscious and lying next to a dead man on a beach, Bigfoot releases him as there is not much evidence to prove Doc as a suspect. Nonetheless, Bigfoot is keeping an eye on his every move.
So as it seems this case has fallen apart, Doc begins a new investigation concerning a supposed “dead” husband of a deeply concerned widow. That very individual, named Coy Harlingen (Owen Wilson) turns out to be very much alive and working undercover for certain authorities, and deep over his head. But also appears to have some valuable information regarding the case of Shasta and Mickey.
And it only gets more complicated from there. But the joy of Inherent Vice isn’t so much the unfolding of an investigation procedural, but rather the strange assortment of characters Doc seems to come across in nearly every scene. That illustration is golden once he finds himself in the office of an off the wall dentist, played by a brilliantly off the wall Martin Short. And the byplay in the scenes between Phoenix and Brolin is worth the price of admission alone.
On top of all the dementedness, the film is beautifully crafted as only a Paul Thomas Anderson film can be. Shot on film and photographed by the brilliant Robert Elswitt, southern California has never looked more colorful and altogether beautiful. Although Anderson received a Oscar nomination for Adapted Screenplay and the film got a nod for Costume Design, the cinematography and production designed were extremely deserving of recognition.
Inherent Vice is a busy, busy film...and yet it’s a chaotic mess with something to admire from beginning to end, whether it’s the amazing attention to detail the setting has been given, or the genius of the borderline insane humor, or the brilliance being displayed by the phenomenal cast. It demonstrates once again the brilliance of Paul Thomas Anderson as one of our most important living filmmakers. And, as far as this genre goes, it really is a one of a kind experience.
I’ve already mentioned how great the filmmaking is, and those qualities really shine amazingly on Warner’s Blu-ray release! Robert Elswitt’s grand cinematography is made even more so in the HD treatment, with colors very much bursting off the screen in tremendous form. Southern Cali in the early 70s looks strikingly authentic, as a result. And virtually every frame of the presentation is loaded with pristine detail, making for what is certainly one of the best looking Blu-ray releases of the year so far!
Though this noir is more dialogue driven than anything else, Paul Thomas Anderson is always sure apply a grand sound design that comes through in various areas, which are enhanced very well by way of the DTS HD 5.1 mix. Most notably, Jonny Greenwood’s music score and a number of 70s era music play off beautifully, and balance out terrifically with the top notch dialogue delivery.
Only thing featured here are four “mini” trailers for the film; titled “Los Parinoas”, “Shasta Fey”, “The Golden Fang” and “Everything in This Dream”.
This combo pack release also comes with a DVD edition and a code for a Digital HD version.
Inherent Vice is indeed a strange journey, but it’s one that I was fully enthralled in and didn’t want to stop. Paul Thomas Anderson expands his un-restriction of film genres with this psychedelic noir comedy mystery, with his grand filmmaking abilities on full display!