By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
This movie actually left me with a lot of mixed feelings when it concluded. However, while I watched the crazy characters and the crazy events unfold on the big screen, I laughed often and heartily. I found it rather difficult to make sense of exactly what message writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson tries to convey with his latest film, but I’m not sure that really matters. The fact is that Inherent Vice, though it has a messy story and plot, is an absolute laugh riot. From start to finish, save for a few meandering moments, the film plays out like an older distant cousin of The Big Lebowski, worthy of celebration by fans of drug humor everywhere.
Based on the acclaimed novel by Thomas Pynchon, Vice takes place in the year 1970. There exists much conflict between the counterculture hippie world and the buttoned-up, straight-laced powers-that-be. With the mass media covering the aftermath of the Manson murders, the general public’s fear of the hippie culture is higher than ever. Speaking of high, the film’s protagonist, Private Investigator Larry “Doc” Sportello lives most of his days under the influence of marijuana and other various substances. Still reeling from his break-up with girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston), Doc decides to investigate the disappearance of Shasta and her new lover, real estate developer Mickey Wolffman (Eric Roberts). As Doc digs deeper and deeper into the new life of his ex and the lifestyles of California’s rich and famous, he finds himself lost in a tangled web of crime, substance abuse, drug trafficking, and other missing persons, but also manages to acquire new clients who just happen to be connected to the people he is investigating.
Inherent Vice’s wild mix of characters, scenarios and subplots does require a diligent attention span, but the difficult part is making sense of it all after all is said and done. According to a fellow critic who has actually read the original novel, much of the political messages in book have been discarded by Anderson in his adaptation. For me that left more to be desired from this film. Still despite some of the malarkey that permeates the movie, I found myself well entertained through most of its run time. I rather enjoyed the wildness and weirdness of the characters and their lives. Honestly, some of it is so out there and absurd that one has to laugh. To quote Connor Rooney (Daniel Craig) from the film Road to Perdition, “It’s all so (expletive) hysterical.”
Regarding the technical side and aesthetics of the film, I saw both the DCP (Digital Cinema Package) and the 70mm versions of the movie. Considering that the movie is a period piece which takes place in 1970, 70mm is the way to view this movie if available in your area. In Austin, the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz has the 70mm version of the movie available. The picture and colors are more vivid and sharp, and I personally feel that a movie made to look like a thowback looks much better this way. Paul Thomas Anderson and his cinematographer Robert Elswitt shot the movie on 35mm film and had it blown up for 70mm. This old technique has been used for decades, sometimes with mixed results, but the people who worked on this transfer have succeeded in enhancing the cinematic experience by offering audiences this viewing option.
It is certainly an option I must highly recommend, but only for people interested in this odd and quirky film. I cannot honestly highly recommend the movie for all audiences, but would encourage fans of P.T. Anderson, stoner comedies, or just plain off-the-wall movies to experience this wild ride for themselves. For these kinds of audiences, this film delivers comedic hysterics and colorful characters brought to life by an outstanding cast. Both Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin shine brightly here as do Katherine Waterston, Eric Roberts, Benicio Del Toro, Jena Malone, Owen Wilson and many others. This movie definitely has the makings of a cult-classic and would make a fun triple feature with Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas and The Big Lebowski.