Sunday, January 18, 2015

Film Review: Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice

Every few years a new Paul Thomas Anderson film comes around. It is a great time in a cinephile's life. I know, I for one, get a giddy feeling in my gutty works as the day of release creeps closer and closer and closer. There are not many directors in this modern day and age of Hollywood who can get me, to put it bluntly, all hot and bothered, as a certain Paul Thomas Anderson can. In fact that number is pretty much at two, with PTA being joined by QT, aka Quentin Tarantino. Maybe to a lesser degree, I could include the likes of David Fincher, David Lynch, Michael Mann, J.J. Abrams, and the Brothers' Coen. At one time Marty Scorsese was on that list too, but nowadays... anyway, I digress. We're here to talk about the new film from the giddy gutty works inducing American auteur, Paul Thomas Anderson. I'm guessing you have already figured out that I kinda love this film. No surprise really, huh? Yeah, like I said, I tend to get all hot and bothered at each and every new PTA to come down the so-called pike. But enough about me and my cinephiliac predilections, let's talk Inherent Vice.

The film, Anderson's seventh as director, is based on Thomas Pynchon's 2009 neo-noir novel of the same name. Appropriately so, Anderson's film is highly inspired by the film noir movement of the 1940's, just as Pynchon's book is influenced by the writings of Raymond Chandler, a man who had his fair share of noir-inspired films of that aforementioned movement. The story, as is in perfect juxtaposition with both Chandler and film noir in general, is a highly convoluted tale of mystery and intrigue and sex and violence, never much amounting to anything in narrative terms, but is still a stunning piece of work throughout. You see, noir doesn't necessarily need to make any sort of narrative sense. Well, at least not complete sense. There still needs to be a story and character development, and all that, but in the case of noir, all these parts do not necessarily need to add up to any sort of coherent whole. One of the greatest of all noir films, 1946's The Big Sleep, a film based on a Chandler novel, and one of the biggest influences on both Pynchon and Anderson here, is a great example of such unneeded narrative sense. An old Hollywood story (though possibly an apocryphal one) tells of how when Howard Hawks, Leigh Brackett, and William Faulkner were working on the screenplay of the film, they came across a murder in the book that they just could not figure out. They went over and over it again, but could never figure out who could have possibly killed this character. After a while, they decided to call up Chandler himself and ask him. Chandler too, had no idea who killed the guy. This is pretty much how noir works. Not everything has to make sense. All you need do is make a compelling film. This is exactly what Anderson does here. Who cares what is happening, as long as it happens creatively - which it does in spades. There is no need to try to explain the plot here (that's not really a critic's job, anyway), but instead just let the film wash over you as you watch it - which you should damn well do at your earliest convenience.

Along with the aforementioned noir classic, The Big Sleep, Inherent Vice can also include Kiss Me Deadly, The Long Goodbye, In A Lonely Place, and Chinatown in its long list of cinematic role models. Not that something like this is anything new to a filmmaker, nay, an auteur, such as Anderson. PTA has always been highly influenced by those directors and films that came before him, and with these influences in hand (Kubrick, Nick Ray, Hitchcock, Welles, Hawks, Godard, Scorsese, John Huston, Polanski, etc etc etc) he has created another grand film that is part homage and part brilliant original masterwork. Actually, this adaptation is a perfect fit as Anderson and Pynchon are quite similar in their respective takes on art, and the unique perspective they have on those who came before them. As this film is also a stoner comedy of sorts to go along with its glaring noirish paternity (how's that for a blend of genres!?), Anderson also cites the Cheech and Chong film, Up in Smoke, and the underground comic strip, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, as influences as well. Add to Anderson's unique auteuristic touch, the performance we get from star Joaquin Phoenix, in yet another brilliant PTA-directed role, along with an array of ensemble acting bon mots (Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Benicio del Toro, Martin Short, and newcomer Katherine Waterston, daughter of Sam Waterston), and we have yet another near masterpiece from one of the best damn directors, nay auteurs, working today. Huzzah! Much like his last film, The Master, or any of his films actually, this may not be a movie for the masses, but for the discerning cinephiles amongst us (and you know of whom I speak), Inherent Vice is a work of pure cinematic genius. Now I'm beginning to get that giddy feeling in my gutty works again, but it's bound to be a long two years or so wait for the next Paul Thomas Anderson film. I don't know if my insides can take it. That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

1 comment:

  1. Another film to add to my list. I would love to see this soon...hopefully will