Sunday, January 11, 2015
Based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice is the story of a private investigator who is asked by a former flame to investigate the disappearance of her boyfriend as he goes into a wild and crazy adventure in 1970 Los Angeles. Written for the screen and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the film is a mystery-comedy that is set during the Charles Manson trials in a transition period from the 1960s to the 1970s as a man is taking on different cases in a world that is very chaotic. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, Katherine Waterston, Owen Wilson, Jena Malone, Martin Short, Sasha Pieterse, Joanna Newsom, Jeannie Berlin, Maya Rudolph, Serena Scott Thomas, Martin Donovan, Michael K. Williams, and Eric Roberts. Inherent Vice is an off-the-wall yet exhilarating film from Paul Thomas Anderson.
Set in 1970 Los Angeles, the film revolves around a private investigator who takes part in the investigation of a millionaire as it leads to a series of strange cases involving real-estate, drugs, corruption, and all sorts of crazy things as Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) copes with his work. It’s a film that has a lot to follow as Sportello is a known stoner/hippie who works as a private investigator as he is good at what he does despite not getting much respect from the authorities. Yet, his unconventional tactics do provide some results where he’s asked by his former flame Shasta (Katherine Waterson) to find a lover as it reveals to be part of something big as other cases involving another disappearance from a musician named Coy Harlingen (Owen Wilson) starts to come into play.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s screenplay definitely takes in the idea of a private investigator on a case that is set in a world that is very chaotic as Sportello is a person that is often associated with hippies. It’s an association that is dangerous as there’s tension between hippies and the police due to the recent murders by Charles Manson. That association hasn’t made things easy for Sportello as he would often give some information to a LAPD detective in Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin) who isn’t fond of Sportello but knows that Sportello. Bigfoot is among the series of many characters that Sportello would encounter as a lot of them are quite eccentric at times but also play into a world that is very chaotic as it represents a change that is looming in the air. Even as the world of hard drugs start to come into play as it would mark the beginning of the end of the 1960s and its ideals for a much more cynical world that is the 1970s.
Adding to the unique approach of the story is the narration as it’s told from the perspective of a friend of Sportello in Sortielge (Joanna Newsom) who is a small supporting character that definitely knows a lot about Sportello as she would often reveal his own flaws and his connection with Shasta whom he is in love with. It adds to the sense of melancholia in Sportello as he is motivated to find out why Shasta is in trouble as there’s a lot of very stylish dialogue that helps move the story. Especially as it plays to clues that Sportello has to figure out along with details which involves some very heavy revelations about what is happening and the sense of change that is coming. Some of which would prove to be uneasy for Sportello as he knows that he needs help in solving the case and to make things right for a few people.
Anderson’s direction definitely has an offbeat quality to the tone of the film where it has this strange mix of suspense, mystery, and humor as he shoots the film on location in Los Angeles and other nearby locations. Much of it involves these very simplistic yet entrancing compositions in its close-ups, medium shots, and wide shots along with some strange camera angles. There’s also some tracking shots that occur in the film while it’s kept to a minimum as Anderson is going for something that plays into a sense of time that is changing where things don’t make a lot of sense. Since it’s a story where a lot goes on, there are moments where the audience will find themselves lost which is probably what Anderson is intending to do as it plays into this world that Sportello is encountering where the parties become hazier and things are becoming darker. The direction also has these very comical moments that are very strange such as Sportello’s meeting with Harligen’s wife Hope (Jena Malone) where she shows him a baby picture as well as some of Sportello’s encounters with Bigfoot.
There’s also these little quirks that Anderson puts in as it relates to food such as the fact that Bigfoot always eats a chocolate banana while the feast for the hippies is pizza. These moments play into everything Sportello is encountering as it plays into a dangerous world of drugs and drug-trafficking that he doesn’t want to be a part of as there’s all of these things that emerge. Especially as Anderson’s direction has him diverting away from conventional ideas of storytelling where he would go into long and intimate takes to play into the conversations and the mysteries to unfold. The film’s climax plays into what Sportello is trying to discover as it is clear that it plays to a world that is changing as does the rules but he would do something that would show that he can accept these changes but not having to change his own principles. Overall, Anderson creates a very wild and sensational film about a private investigator going into a crazy adventure of intrigue and haze in 1970 Los Angeles.
Cinematographer Robert Elswit does amazing work with the film‘s colorful cinematography from the beauty of the Californian sun and beaches in its daytime exteriors to the use of lights and filters for some scenes set at night to help set a mood into the mysterious world that Sportello would encounter. Editor Leslie Jones does brilliant work with the editing in its approach to dissolves and jump-cuts to play into some of the sense of longing in Sportello as well as some of the film‘s offbeat humor. Production designer David Crank, with set decorator Amy Wells and art director Ruth De Jong, does excellent work with the set pieces from the look of the different houses that Sportello would go to as well as the LAPD building and his quaint home that shows who he is.
Costume designer Mark Bridges does fantastic work with the costumes from the ragged clothes he would wear as well as suits he would wear in disguise as well as the colorful and stylish clothing of the characters he would meet. Hair stylist Patricia DeHaney and makeup artist Susan Stepanian do terrific work with the hairstyles of the characters as well as some of the makeup the women wear plus the dental prosthetics by David Beneke for the teeth that Hope Harlegin has to sport due to her past drug addiction. Visual effects supervisor Paul Graff does nice work with some of the minimal visual effects that involve a few set-dressing scenes as well as some very strange moments where Sportello sees Bigfoot on TV.
Sound designer Christopher Scarabosio does superb work with the sound to capture some of the craziness of the house parties that Sportello would go to as well as the way some of the phone conversations play out. The film’s music by Jonny Greenwood is great as he brings in this mixture of eerie and melancholic orchestral music as well as strange and offbeat electric-folk pieces that includes an unreleased cut by his band Radiohead while music supervisor Linda Cohen brings in a fun soundtrack of music from Can, Neil Young, the Association, Minnie Ripperton, The Marketts, Kyu Sakamoto, Les Baxter, and Chuck Jackson as it plays to the tone of the times and the sense of change that is emerging.
The casting by Cassandra Kulukundis is phenomenal as it is a massive ensemble that features notable small performances from Jillian Bell as a hippie, Erica Sullivan as a doctor in a clinic Sportello visit, Jefferson Mays as the head of that clinic, Timothy Simons and Sam Jaeger as a couple of FBI agents who hover around Sportello’s investigation, Jordan Christian Hearn as Sportello’s assistant Denis, Hong Chau as a masseuse named Jade who helps Sportello out in the investigation, Keith Jardine as a biker with a swastika tattoo on his face, Elaine Tan as Dr. Blatnoyd’s secretary, Shannon Collis as a masseuse that Sportello meets early in the film, and Peter McRobbie as a dealer whom Sportello suspects that Bigfoot knows and doesn’t like. Other memorable small yet fun performances include Michael K. Williams as a Black Panther figure of sorts who tells Sportello about a turf he had lost, Jeannie Berlin as an informer of Sportello who knows about the wealthy Wolfmann family, Martin Donovan as a politician that Sportello previously met who might know something, and Sasha Pieterse as that politician’s daughter who hangs around with Dr. Blatnoyd.
Michelle Sinclair is superb as a sister of a dead suspect that meets with Sportello while Serena Scott Thomas is ravishing as the wife of a rich real estate man who is cheating on him. Maya Rudolph is wonderful as Sportello’s secretary Petunia as she is a pregnant nurse who is definitely smarter than Sportello while knowing he still has feelings for Shasta. Eric Roberts is terrific as the eccentric real estate mogul Mickey Wolfmann who disappears as he is connected to all sorts of things that intrigues Sportello. Martin Short is excellent as Dr. Blatnoyd as this offbeat dentist who has a penchant for cocaine as he is part of something secretive. Joanna Newsom is fantastic as Sortielge as a friend of Sportello who knows him very well as she is also this very intriguing observer. Jena Malone is amazing as Hope Harlingen as a former junkie and wife of Coy who gives Sportello information about her husband and why he might be alive. Owen Wilson is brilliant as Coy Harlingen as this musician who has disappeared as he is revealed to be something more as he is trying to hide from the people connected to these crimes.
Benicio del Toro is great as the attorney Sauncho Smilax Esq. as this oddball attorney who helps Sportello in the investigation while giving him information about some of the ins and outs of what is happening in Los Angeles. Reese Witherspoon is radiant as deputy D.A. Penny Kimball as a lover of sorts of Sportello who knows what is going on as she would help in uncovering parts of the mystery that is surrounding the case. Katherine Waterston is remarkable as Shay Fay Hepworth as a former lover of Sportello who returns in need of help as she has this evocative presence that is fascinating as she proves to be the one person that might understand him.
Josh Brolin is marvelous as Bigfoot as this straight-laced detective who despises hippies as he brings this very odd yet engaging performance as a man that is very intimidating but knows when Sportello is onto something and helps him. Finally, there’s Joaquin Phoenix in a tremendous performance as Larry “Doc” Sportello as this very weird stoner detective who is taking a case for his ex-girlfriend as he goes into a dangerous web of drugs and corruption as it’s a performance that has Phoenix be very funny. Even in scenes where he is treated as a foil while coping with times that are changing around him as it’s really one of Phoenix’s best performances.
Inherent Vice is a rapturous and truly off-the-wall film from Paul Thomas Anderson that features a great leading performance from Joaquin Phoenix. Armed with a brilliant supporting ensemble, a mind-bending premise, themes on a world that is changing, and a killer music soundtrack. It’s a film that refuses to define itself as it’s definitely not for everyone as it has so many twists and turns that will be hard to follow yet plays into a sense of haziness that goes into one man’s investigation to uncover the truth. In the end, Inherent Vice is a spectacularly odd yet dazzling film from Paul Thomas Anderson.
P.T. Anderson Films: Hard Eight/Sydney - Boogie Nights - Magnolia - Punch-Drunk Love - There Will Be Blood - The Master - Junun - Phantom Thread
Related: The Shorts & Videos of P.T. Anderson - The Auteurs #15: Paul Thomas Anderson
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