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Inherent Vice (2014)
Pynchon by way of Anderson
I realize that I maybe shouldn't be writing this review, seeing as I have seen Inherent Vice, the new film by Paul Thomas Anderson, just once. Based on a novel by the ever-elusive Thomas Pynchon, Vice is a film so dense that it may seem to be nearly impenetrable on a first viewing. The key to the film is not to keep up with it but, rather, to get lost in it, as Anderson and Pynchon are inviting us to do. Inherent Vice is a film that coasts on a cloud of feeling - on the emotions that it evokes and the meaning one can discern from the smallest, most minute details. It just so happens that this cloud originates from a joint, sliding out of the mouth of our lovable lead stoner Doc Sportello, played by Joaquin Phoenix.
The plot of Inherent Vice is of relatively minor concern; it deals with sex, drugs, a bit of rock n roll, the hippie counterculture, a missing business tycoon, more drugs, Ouija boards, Oriental ships, brothels, corrupt cops and, yes, even more drugs. Sure, Inherent Vice concerns itself with all of these things, but it does not use the events in the traditional sense. Instead, Anderson's script insightfully relies on its characters and their relationships to lay the groundwork for the film's main themes and biggest emotional beats. Joaquin Phoenix is absolutely terrific as the perpetually high Sportello on a quest to ensure the safety of his troubled, but caring ex-girlfriend, Shasta, played by stunning newcomer, Katherine Waterston. Along for the ride in this Homer's Odyssey-influenced journey are Josh Brolin's square, conservative and borderline-maniacal cop, Bigfoot Bjornsen, and Owen Wilson's Coy Harlingen, a mixed up man who is caught between an idealistic 50's family and a radical, new-age cult. I'm not even going to bring up the whacked-out, coked-up genius of Martin Short playing an absolutely insane dentist doing some very questionable dental work you'll just have to see for yourself.
I hesitate to call Inherent Vice a follow-up to Anderson's last film, The Master, seeing as its loose, freewheeling and unhinged nature fits more along the lines of Boogie Nights than it does the solemn, heartbroken nature of The Master. Stylistically, however, Inherent Vice works as a perfect blend of the old and the new in Anderson's career. This mix works incredibly well with the content that Pynchon is dealing with in his own novel, as Vice tells the story of a country caught between the old and the new. There is a moment towards the end of the film that is a simultaneously hilarious, heart-breaking and beautiful encapsulation of both how close, and yet how far, the 60's and the 70's were from each other.
Surprisingly, the words that best express Inherent Vice come not from Pynchon himself, but from Hunter S. Thompson in his sublime work, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Speaking of the revolutionary 70's, Thompson states: "We were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave
.So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water markthat place where the wave finally broke and rolled back." Inherent Vice is a deceptively sad look on the void that this breaking wave produces between the constantly shifting sea and the stoic, immobile shore.