Paul Thomas Anderson returns to the grittier side of life with his latest project, “Inherent Vice,” based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon. The film concerns a private detective, Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), who is investigating a bizarre conspiracy involving a former girlfriend, Shasta (Katherine Waterston). She claims to be involved with a rich real estate mogul, while also being courted by the mogul’s wife and her boyfriend to help take away his wealth. The investigation leads in multiple directions including a murdered bodyguard, a syndicate of dentists, a ring of drug smugglers, a snitch (Owen Wilson) who just wants to see his family again, and an LAPD detective (Josh Brolin) that is constantly showing up throughout Doc’s journey. As he digs deeper and deeper, it becomes less and less clear how each piece is related to the case… or if any of it is truly related at all. Such is the nature of Anderson’s latest opus, a drug-fueled odyssey that will have you questioning every bit of information.
For those familiar with Anderson’s previous work, you’ll know that the man is a rather fascinating director and writer, giving us sprawling works that, for the most part, stick in your mind whether they end up being good films or not. The one which you might call an exception was his last project, “The Master,” which, despite featuring a trio of amazing performances, suffered terribly from what you could refer to as “wandering narrative syndrome,” where it became very evident that Anderson just wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with the story and characters. Unfortunately, this is an issue that appears to have followed him to his latest project as well, except that “Inherent Vice” has an even worst case of it than Anderson’s previous work.
“Inherent Vice” begins by trying to piece together a narrative, presenting a rather interesting setup, but after this, the film becomes something of a meandering mess of scenes that never adds up to a cohesive whole, stretching on and on for an unforgivable two and a half hours. Granted, this may be the essence of Pynchon’s novel, one that many called unfilmable, but if this was known beforehand, why would Anderson waste his amazing talents on something that would make for a film this flat and unengaging? Its structure does indeed feel as though it was written by someone who has been indulging quite a bit with narcotics as the narrative changes and shifts from scene to scene, adding in pieces and trying to put it together with the rest of the plot, while at other times ignoring it completely and coming to a complete standstill, forcing the audience to sit there and wonder: Why is this here? What does this have to do with anything?
All that can really be said is that Anderson apparently did a good job of adapting Pynchon’s unusual novel, but that certainly doesn’t mean that it made for a good movie, as is evident by the result. It does feature an exquisite cast (pretty much its one saving grace and an element that Anderson has a knack for), including Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro, Reese Witherspoon, and Martin Short. You’ll just wish that they had been put to use in a more grounded, more thought-out work, rather than this bland and directionless collection of scenes that is doomed to become one of the forgotten works of a mostly-praiseworthy filmography.
“Inherent Vice” comes to Blu-ray in a 1.85:1, 1080p High Definition of slightly questionable quality. The picture is noticeably fuzzy throughout, which may have been an attempt at adding to the 70s feeling of the film, but assuming that it was not done on purpose, it could have used a little sharpening. On the other hand, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is excellent, allowing you to hear every bit of whispered dialogue throughout the entire feature. Overall, despite the video issue, the film remains watchable, and when coupled with the excellent audio, makes for a decent experience.
Los Paranoias, Shasta Fay, The Golden Fang, Everything in This Dream: As far as extras, all we’re given are these four “special trailers” that do nothing more than show just how meandering the film is.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” is a misguided attempt at bringing Thomas Pynchon’s bizarre, incoherent, and seemingly unfilmable novel to life. Suffering terribly from “wandering narrative syndrome,” the film is nothing but a random collection of scenes crammed together that have less and less to do with each other as it proceeds. It may be able to boast a very impressive cast of Oscar winners and nominees, but when all is said and done after an insufferable two and a half hours, there are simply far too many vices to be found in this easily forgettable work of a much-celebrated director.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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