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Kidnapping, deception, rock stars, Nazis, and a whole lot of weed. These are the things that incapsulate and make up the new Paul Thomas Anderson film, Inherent Vice, based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon, and starring Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Benecio del Toro, and Katherine Waterson. The film is hardboiled, noire style tale set in 1970’s Los Angeles, where a PI named Larry “Doc” Sportello (Phoenix) is dropped into a dark and twisted world where no one or anything is as it seems, all because his ex-girlfriend walks back into his life. As the story and chaos begins to unfold in front of Doc, his state of mind begins to change, as his drug fueled binges begin to take control, creating a world of paranoia where no one is to be trusted.
Paul Thomas Anderson has been a filmmaker that many have become absolutely infatuated with, and for good reason. He crafts remarkably intricate character studies in the confines of movies you may not necessarily know it could be possible, or that you even wanted. Things like Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, Magnolia, and The Master have proven he is capable of anything, and thankfully Inherent Vice follows in the footsteps of his best films. The film is an absolutely insane, and while many may call it convoluted, it’s not. The beauty of the film is that we understand everything that is going on in the film about as well as Doc, which is that we don’t at all. It’s really that feeling of loss and confusion that drives the film, and ultimately makes it work. We feel disoriented, just as Doc does, and makes you question everything that’s happening, and it’s all very intentional. Anderson is a very specific filmmaker, and to make us feel lost and confused just makes the chaos that the film devolves into that much more insane and fun. He also managed to craft an almost perfect feel for Los Angeles in the 1970s, really capturing the magic and feel of the city, and its seedy underbelly. It’s something that not all directors can managed, but Anderson really makes it feel authentic.
The film is littered with great moments of levity, reminding you just how ridiculous the whole thing. All the situational comedic moments work to not only humanize the characters, but to try and give the audience a breather before we delve back into this case’s twists, pushing us and making us question everything. Anderson balances it all perfectly, and the movie flows smoothly all the way through because of it. For a film that runs almost two and a half house, it never feels long, because it holds you on the edge of your seat the whole time. That’s always the sign of a great filmmaker and editor, and it’s great to see they could make a longer film feel so short, when so many longer films these days feel bloated.
But what really makes Inherent Vice work is the incredible work of Joaquin Phoenix, the film’s star, who plays Doc. The role is a career high for Phoenix, whose insane, over the top, funny, and crazed portrayal of Doc is one of the year’s best performances. Phoenix is in every scene of the film outside of the opening, and he carries the entire film on his shoulders, and you just marvel at the little idiosyncrasies he created with the character. He is completely lost in this character, and it shows, taking the film to the next level. Josh Brolin is also fantastic as “Bigfoot” Bjornsen, a cop who doesn’t like Doc or his hippie lifestyle much, but deals with him on a regular basis because of Doc’s PI work. It’s one of Brolin’s strongest performances in a while, and he steals every scene he’s in with his cold, but also almost fun demeanor. Everyone from Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, and Benecio del Toro just give wonderful performances, populating this world with fantastic characters, and really making the world feel real. It just shows how great Anderson is at working with his actors, and the kind of performances he can get out of them.
Inherent Vic is a fast paced, funny, twisted, over the top, and absolutely insane 1970’s noire tale that feels like a product of the time period it is set in. While many viewers may feel lost or confused by the film, it really feels that is completely intentional on Anderson’s part, as we are inside Doc’s mind at all times, and we are seeing things through his drug addled thoughts. The film is populated by fantastic performances from everyone, especially Phoenix and Brolin, the former of which gives a career best, and crafting one of the best characters of the year on film here. There’s few films so fun and so satisfying as Inherent Vice, which makes you want to go back and watch it all over again. This is a film that will play spectacularly on multiple viewings, so you can try and take in and understand more of what lies in the film. This is one of the year’s absolute best films, hands down, and Paul Thomas Anderson once again proves why he is one of the Hollywood’s best filmmakers.