DirectorPaul Thomas Anderson
Release Date(s)2014 (April 28, 2015)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C
I love when film genre get spun on its head. I find it remarkably refreshing (a good example is Brick – check it out if you haven’t already). I also adore the work of Paul Thomas Anderson. So it should come as no real shock that Inherent Vice is one of those obvious choices for me. Of course I was going to like it. I just didn’t expect to love it as much as I did.
Based on one of Thomas Pynchon’s more recent (and what film critics are deeming “more accessible”) novels, Inherent Vice simply unfolds. That’s really the best way to put it. The film never gives the viewer any real idea where you are, how you got there, who to believe, and where you’ll end up. Characters weave in and out, bringing in and taking with them important clues – and all of it is muddled up by being from the point of view of a stoned out private investigator with, what has to be, an imaginary friend. You just have to hand yourself over to the filmmaker and trust. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed the film so much. I trust Anderson. I knew he was going to take me for a fun ride, and I wanted to marvel at the landmarks and see the sights as we went. I had no expectations and I didn’t care where we were going.
Doc (Joaquin Phoenix), as I said above, is a private eye in 1970. The sixties, and with it the Summer of Love, are over. Enter a new state of affairs: Paranoia is king, the Establishment rules, and mild drugs like ‘shrooms, pot, and LSD have been moved aside by the hard stuff, heroin chief among them. We’re still a year away from Nixon declaring drug abuse public enemy number one, so let’s just consider this film’s setting the transitional period from drugs as a social issue to a major criminal one. It’s fitting, because drugs play an important character in this film. One night, while stretched out on his Gordita Beach (nee Manhattan Beach, CA) apartment couch, Doc gets an unexpected visit from an old girlfriend, Shasta (Katherine Waterston, remarkable here as well as the little criminally under seen The Babysitters). She asks for his help with her boyfriend Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), a very wealthy land developer who has disappeared and, as Shasta believes, it’s Wolfmann’s wife and her trainer who may be the ones responsible. None of this makes a lick of sense to Doc (or us, really) and strictly out of his past connection to her (and a little residual love, if that’s even the right word) he decides to “take her case”. It’s the traditional gumshoe set-up, and yet.... From there, we jump into an average day for Doc as he heads to the office in the back of a working medical clinic. It’s there that he takes a separate case, where a black militant played by Michael K. Williams hires Doc to track down a man named Charlock that he owes money to; a man who just happens to be bodyguard to Wolfmann. Two threads start leading to the same place. Over the course of this investigation, we meet Detective Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), who we come to find has a hard-on for Doc (maybe for real) when he steps in after Doc gets jumped at a massage parlor while looking for Charlock. (Brolin and Phoenix are magic together, by the way, and I hope we see more times where they can play off of each other in other films.) As if Doc doesn’t have enough to do, he decides to take a third case tracking down a missing musician/husband for a former heroin addict (Jena Malone). She’s been told he is dead, but believes otherwise. Nine gets you ten this case also ties into Shasta’s. There’s a bunch more going on, and it just unthreads there in front of you – but not once as a viewer did it take me out of the moment and make me question the film. It was like watching two drunk or high friends tell a really engaging story that each of them experienced together. You follow along with each tangent and they pile up, knowing it’s going somewhere, and when it does, you have that a-ha moment. You’ll never be able to repeat that story yourself, but it’s a damn good time nevertheless.
Anderson does a great job of creating a very 70s vibe to the film. Like he did for the 80s in Boogie Nights, this is his love letter to an era that has always been cliché to film. A lot of that, I think, has to do with his choice to shoot the film on 35mm. It give the whole thing a rich cinematic feel, with nice use of grain and dead-eye color and haze when needed. Anderson always had a great eye, and this eye is just another example of that. This Blu-ray’s 1080p presentation showcases that incredibly well. This is a film that looks great in hi-def. I don’t have a cinema screen in my home, but I have to think this movie would look great on a huge home screen. The sound is equally impressive. Here we get a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix with a really immersive sound field that has a lot of life coming at you from all directions. I’m not too much of an audiophile, but this could be one of the better sounding films (that isn’t a huge action film) that I’ve heard in a long while.
Sadly, similarly to There Will Be Blood, Blu-ray extras were not a high priority for Anderson on this production. I don’t know if Magnolia broke him a bit, but I do miss the level of behind-the-scenes access we used to have to him. Here, we get three short promo featurettes (Los Paranoias, The Golden Fang, and Shasta Fay, all in HD) as well as a deleted scene – but that’s it. It would have been cool to get the book trailer that had Pynchon acting as Doc in VO, reminiscing about the setting of the book, but you can find it online. So I guess, no loss there. Check that out here if you haven’t seen it.
Inherent Vice isn’t for everyone, but if you’re into storytelling, acting and/or ambiance in your cinema, it’s a bold film with a lot to offer. It’s one of my favorite films of last year, and one I wish had gotten more love in theaters. Here’s hoping this Blu-ray release changes that.
- Todd Doogan