Well, that was an interesting – or should I say “groovy” – screening at Cinema Society today. I’m a huge fan of Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous movies (“There Will Be Blood, “The Master”) and, while I’ve never been equally enthusiastic about the novels of Thomas Pynchon, I loved the idea of an LA noir tale with an A+ cast (Joaquin Phoenix, Owen Wilson, Benecio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Martin Short, Eric Roberts). What could be bad?
The length of “Inherent Vice,” for one thing. Must I keep ranting about films that take over two-and-a-half hours to tell a story? Apparently so. Scenes could have been tightened up and they weren’t. On the other hand, the top critics who’ve put the movie on their Best of 2014 list praised Anderson’s ability to condense Pynchon’s novel, so what do I know?
Set in 1970, the movie begins as private eye Doc Sportello, a stoner in Santa Monica who hasn’t fully grasped that the sixties have come to an end post-Manson family, gets a visit from his ex-girlfriend who’s worried about her current boyfriend who’s gone missing. The boyfriend is a billionaire real estate developer whose wife and her stud have plotted to commit him to a looney bin and steal his money. Doc is intrigued and investigates. One trail of clues leads to another and another, and along the way we meet a recovering heroin addict-sax player (Wilson), a drug-dealing, sex-crazed dentist (Short), an LAPD detective with TV aspirations (Brolin) and many more. It’s a wild, psychedelic ride and I alternated between liking the movie and being bored by it. It didn’t help that Santa Barbara’s historic Riviera Theatre has terrible acoustics and much of the dialogue was hard to decipher.
Phoenix is wonderful as always, but Brolin stole the movie for me. He’s hilarious, truly. The movie looks great too; if Anderson doesn’t know how to shoot a film set in LA, no one does. Michael loved “Inherent Vice” and said if it hadn’t been so long it would have been his Best Film of the year. He certainly laughed a lot. Maybe he was stoned?