Saturday, October 04, 2014

“Inherent Vice”– Movie Review



Tonight, I attended The Centerpiece screening at The New York Film Festival, seeing the World Premiere of “Inherent Vice”, starring Joaquin Phoenix and written & directed by Paul Thomas Anderson; it is based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon. 


When a private investigator is hired by his ex-girlfriend to locate her new billionaire boyfriend who’s mysteriously disappeared, he winds up also being forced to explore her own sudden vanishing – but after he uncovers an Asian drug cartel and possible police corruption, will he live long enough to locate the missing persons?


In 1970, hippy private investigator Doc Sportello (Phoenix) is pretty much doing what his peers of this era are doing:  hanging out at a beachside Los Angeles community and spending more time getting high than working.  One night, however, he is asked to go to work by his ex-girlfriend whose new boyfriend, Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), has turned up missing.  Mickey is a wealthy real estate developer who is married, but he and his wife have something of an open relationship (she has a boyfriend of her own); Doc’s ex suspects that Mickey’s wife has hatched a plot to get her husband out of the way so that she can have his money. 

Reluctantly, Doc takes the case, but mostly because he’s still in love with his former flame.  Once he gets started in his investigation, he realizes there’s more to this case than meets the eye and things get increasingly complicated.  For one thing, Police Detective Bigfoot Bjornsen (Josh Brolin) is behaving oddly, causing Doc to become suspicious that maybe he’s in on the plan.  Checking out some of Mickey’s background, he stumbles upon a massage parlor that may be used as a money laundering business for an Asian syndicate called Golden Fang which smuggles heroin into the United States. 

Using his network of connections, Doc digs a little deeper into the situation, which only becomes increasingly confusing the more he uncovers.  Eventually, Doc gains access to an insane asylum where it is believed Mickey has been cloistered.  But when he succeeds in finding Mickey there, it appears that the billionaire is completely satisfied with being held in these peaceful surroundings.  Instead, Doc happens upon another resident of the asylum, Coy Harlingen (Owen Wilson), who is believed to have a connection to Golden Fang.  Can Doc successfully free Coy and locate his ex-girlfriend while surviving the wrath of the drug cartel? 


With director Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous feature film “The Master”, many critics took issue with the movie itself but were captivated by some of the performances – including that of Joaquin Phoenix.  Déjà vu.  While “Inherent Vice” may have been highly anticipated by fans of both Anderson and the Pynchon novel on which it is based, this film adaptation is nothing short of an incoherent mess that has precious little going for it that is worth recommending.  Although Phoenix and Brolin have scenes both together and separately that are very funny, they are hardly a reason to see “Inherent Vice”. 

When word circulated that Anderson was making “Inherent Vice”, there was great curiosity; not only would this be the first film adaptation of a Pynchon novel, but also, people familiar with the book wondered how this could be made into a movie.  The end result, it would appear, is that this apprehension was completely justified; adapting the work was clearly a task too difficult for even a filmmaker as talented and experienced as Anderson.  Although “Inherent Vice” will not be considered among Anderson’s best, it may ultimately be considered something of a noble failure.

Prior to the screening, Anderson was brought on stage to introduce the movie.  Behind him, a slide with the logo for the Film Festival was being projected on the same screen on which the film would be shown; below the logo was the slogan for The Film Society Of Lincoln Center:  “Film Lives Here”.  Anderson pointed to this and announced with pride that the slogan was more than merely words:  the experience we were about to share would be viewed on a 35mm print, rather than on DCP.  In this era of new technology, Anderson was rightly proud to have gone old school in shooting this motion picture. 


Inherent Vice (2014) on IMDb

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