A mystery that leaves you wondering long after you've left the theatre. More complicated than The Big Lebowski, More byzantine than Get Shorty or Jackie Brown, it may share stylistic elements of both, mixed with Anderson's patented "filming a stage play" approach, the whole thing's a detective noir filtered thru a colorful, amped-up, 70's California druggy haze. Some of the elements you recognize, like a down-on-his-luck private eye, apparently being set up by his not-quite-maybe- ex girlfriend, to take the fall in a very elaborate conspiracy/murder case. The 70's Hunter S. Thompson-esque California setting however, keeps you a-whirl with blind alleys, betrayals, counter-betrayals, and general weirdness, making the audience feel as isolated and out of the loop as " 'Doc" the investigator himself. Which leads his character back thru the classic noir trope of having to decide, not so much how to crack the case, or even if he's supposed to, but rather, to Do the Right Thing - whatever that is.
Everybody in this movie gives an incredible performance. Joachim Phoenix looks like a Cheech and Chong version of Wolverine, with his weird sideburns and a way of meandering between seemig totally befuddled and totally aware. Katherine Waterston just melts the screen as the quintessential 70's California Babe. Brolin as the Dick-Tracy-like square-jawed LA cop with possible sexuality issues, radiates an angry energy hiding the desperate and lonely man behind it. Every supporting character comes across as having a movie's worth of back-story behind them, and they're wacky names kept my wife in stitches. Owen Wilson is in this, kind of like Tony Roberts had to be in every Woody Allen film for a time... I wasn't crazy about Owen in this one, nor Martin Short, who would have been perfect if he played it strictly straight, instead of playing it for laughs. Every location, no matter how brief, has the patented attention to detail that Anderson like to lavish on his productions. The score is subtle but effective in helping set tone and mood.
The movie is a Mister Toad's Wild Ride in terms of following the plot. My wife said, afterwards: "I wonder what the blooper reel for this would look like" "I think we just watched it". I replied. The middle bit left me feeling a little lost and trying to catch up, but it felt good when I did. Much was made of the extensive nude scene in the pre-release press for the film. I think you'd have to have some kind of equivalent scene in the film at that point to hinge the dynamic of the detective and the woman he's still in love with, but who may not love him. Could it have been more "off-screen" ? Maybe. Probably. But then it might have weakened the romantic pay-off at the film's end. One of the little jokes I loved was the continuing gag of Doc making serious notes in his detective's notebook. When you see how he condenses the situation or information into the notes, I dare you not to giggle.
I liked it, once I got the hang of it. And I liked that it wasn't all tied up very neat in a bow, but was much more complicated, with loose ends hanging here and there, the same way life is. I don't know that the film has a lot of replay value once you've initially seen it, as an overall movie, but I think it could wind up having quite a few "quotable" scenes in it.
The film did not get a wide release in my town; it was shown at the smaller theatre that screens all the "foreign" films and non-blockbusters, and it probably won't stay up for long, so if you're at all curious, go see it sooner rather than later.
Nice review, Mark. I think you summed up the core elements of it better than I could. A lot of films lately have done a really good job of tapping into specific parts of my brain and causing me to have weird, uncomfortable emotional disturbances. Whiplash made me question my drive, Nightcrawler made me question my ethics, Gone Girl made me question how good I'm doing in my relationship, and Birdman just made me question the purpose of my existence. Inherent Vice confirmed a feeling in my head that I'm probably super paranoid about everything. And I don't even take (non stomach related) drugs!
This movie has plot oozing out of every orifice. Just when I think the movie is about one thing, a new character is introduced, a seemingly new, different case is now on Doc's radar, and another branch of story is shooting in a direction we haven't explored yet. Whether it all actually gets tied up again at the end, I want to say... perhaps? I'm no connoisseur of fine literature [licks fingers, turns page on Goosebumps book], so I have no idea how much Paul Thomas Anderson strayed away or faithfully stuck to Thomas Pynchon's source material, but it was a movie that felt like an endless stream of people talking and creating more plot. There were only a couple of scenes that provided some breathing room, and they were appreciated. Not that I'm complaining about the dialogue or anything, it's all very clever. And it had one of my new favorite movie lines ever; as Doc and his rival police chief, Bigfoot are meeting at a breakfast joint to discuss (one of several) cases, Bigfoot says, "The pancakes aren't as good as my mother's... But I keep coming back here for the respect." Haha, I'm definitely using that line next time anyone questions a food choice I've made. Then I'll start shouting "MOTO PANACAKU! MOTO PANACAKU!" in their face until they leave the room. Yeah, I'm annoying.
Paul Thomas Anderson might be one of the only film makers who can throw in an unapologetically strange moment into his story, leave it completely unexplained as he moves into the next scene, and make the entire audience somehow believe that what we just watched was supposed to belong there. This sort of randomness could infuriate me in other films, but with PTA, it's almost *expected* to occur, and for whatever reason, I don't just enjoy these moments, I look forward to the next one. Inherent Vice is filled with so many of these moments, however, that I couldn't help but leave the theater not only wondering "What the hell did I just watch?", but also "Why did I enjoy this movie?" The latter confused me the most because I truly did enjoy it. I enjoyed it despite the fact that I probably couldn't relay the plot to someone in the hallway of the movie theater right after I walked out of the auditorium. I have no idea what this movie was supposed to be, and I enjoyed the hell out of it.
But I don't think I could possibly recommend Inherent Vice to anyone. I just tried flipping through the mental Rolodex of people I know, and I'm not entirely sure I'd be confident in encouraging any of those people to actually pay money to sit through these two and a half hours of lunacy. That's not to say that they (or many people) wouldn't like it, but I can just imagine everybody also wondering what the hell they just watched and why the hell I told them to go see it. So... Don't go see Inherent Vice. It's really good. But your time is precious. It's only great filmmaking. It's not for you. And I liked it a lot. Stay away.
Confused yet? Huh? OK. 8.5 out of 10. Or is it? Probably? Maybe? I think? No? So? What?
I would say, if you liked Jackie Brown, Get Shorty, or Lebowski, this is a little stronger dose of what you already know and like; go see it. I think watching it after a nice dinner may help.
Is it essential to see on a large screen? I'd say no. But definitely put it in your streaming /rental que.