Monday, 8 June 2015

'Inherent Vice' review.

Paul Thomas Anderson makes a comedy in this psychedelic, crazy stoner noir. But all is not what it seems. Read on after the break to find out more....

Out of all the experience films I proudly cherish, this one stands out among the crowd as the oddball. I mean, you could easily argue that any comedy is an experience film in its own right: the entire notion of laughing at jokes in a room full of people is appealing to almost everybody. But this film is different. For myself, an experience film is a feature that stands out among the rest as kindling a unique feeling: the sense of scale in '2001:A Space Odyssey' ; the immersion of 'Gravity'; the cathartic trip that is 'Mad Max: Fury Road'. 'Inherent Vice' is, essentially, the closest you will ever come to becoming stoned on a movie (unless you count the titular tape from 'Infinite Jest').

The Last pizza supper - Inherent Vice is full of visual gags.
It's a weird experience to say the least, and it works manically well. Consider the basic premise that is revealed to us at the exposition of the film: stoner detective Doc Sportello encounters his 'ex - old lady' Shasta Fay who utters those immortal words; "I need help, Doc". From there, Anderson gently pulls us further and further down the rabbit hole and  consistently loses coherency. But he does it so subtly that , in fact, by the time you realize you have absolutely no clue what the hell is going on the credits will have already rolled. I have no idea whatsoever how he managed it, but the effect is truly unique and something that needs to be experienced to be believed. Part of me wonders whether Anderson would like us to smoke his film rather than watch it... Important plot events feel immensely crucial, but for some reason, you don't know why. As the audience, we just drift around in a haze of marijuana and semi-reality that may, or may not be a hallucination...

Pynchon novels are often considered unfilmable. Certainly, if anybody tries 'Gravity's Rainbow', it ain't gonna work out. But Anderson has expressed his interest in working with the reclusive authors work for a number of years now and 'Inherent Vice' is the perfect Pynchon novel for him to attempt to adapt: it contains all the themes he is known for (paranoia plays what is possibly the largest part in the film) yet is the funniest and the most accessible (some would argue) of his work. But, having read the novel in question, one could argue that it IS unfilmable. There are two scenes that spring to mind after watching the film version: in the book our central character travels to Las Vegas and encounters a ruined city, where a hobo watching old cartoons explains a major plot point, also, a crazy, mythical wave engulfing scene provides a couple of moments that Anderson's budget does not allow. The fact is, the novel is so full of these moments (which only last a couple of pages) that any film adaptation would struggle to keep up with . Nevertheless, Anderson does a great job of converting Pynchon's superb prose almost word for word to the screen and also adds his own visual panache to some of the more surreal moments. What this leads to are some endlessly quotable and poignant lines that can be cherished forever. Unfortunately, this means that we cannot fully give Anderson the credit for this movie, but that's the same as with any adapted screenplay, and props to Anderson for making a faithful one.
Cinematic weed...

The characterization is absolutely wonderful, although once again we must debate whether Anderson or Pynchon is to be congratulated on this. Pynchon definitely receives the reward for the best names: no character possesses a conventional one (with Coy Harligen, Bigfoot Bjornsen and Dr. Rudy Blatnoid amongst some of the zany choices here). And of course he has created each of their personalities wonderfully, yet it is undoubtedly Anderson and his cast that receive the accolade for acting it out so damn well. In fact, very few characters get excessive screen time, so most celebrity appearances are mere cameos - for an independent movie, this veers pretty close to an ensemble comedy. This gives each actor a lot of time to work on how they portray their individual character, making the film a hubub of life and a real potential strong point for any acting lesson.

And the comedy is just sublime. It's as much of a throwback to yesteryear as the rest of the film - the gags are mostly physical and visual rather than spoken word. It's one of the most surprisingly slapstick films I've ever seen, and there are always private jokes lurking in the corner of Anderson's frames. For example, take the 'loony bin' scene in which a nervous doctor guides Sportello around his facility. Although in the foreground we are experiencing a disorientating and trippy discussion, in the background we can make out such illustrious details as Jesus lookalikes with machine guns chasing patients (as the doctor discusses tranquility), and the look that Doc gives Bjornsen as he eats a banana is pure dynamite... This comedy is pretty much constant, yet only at a few moments does the film reach a fever pitch of hilarity. The result is a relatively subdued audience, chuckling privately - adding to the unique aura of the film.

Phoenix - Dazed and confused...
Onto the full story itself rather than simply the audience impression of such. Well, it's pretty insane. If you've read the book before you see the film, it's far more likely that you're going to get more out of it on a first viewing. If not, well, as I've already said, you're not supposed to understand it soooo, see it anyway. Don't get me wrong, if you map it out, it's not entirely impossible to decipher what's going on: to keep it short, Doc. starts digging deep into Shasta's case and ends up finding a much larger conspiracy against Mickey - a corrupt (or maybe not) real estate mogul. But as he homes into solving the issue, he begins to realize that those that he thought of as allies are actually playing him off....

Anderson (and Pynchon) use this setup to produce some amazing visuals. As in, truly, bat - shit crazy wonderful. For a start, the film is shot on 35mm film which is my favorite shooting method for a reason: it just looks so damn beautiful. Every frame feels unique and real under the glaring California sun. The production team also utilized expired film stock in multiple scenes to produce that longing for the past that Anderson strives for - it's just so nostalgic and melancholy and crazily, beautifully unique. Anderson also makes use of the numerous locations in the book to create a constantly shifting and exciting landscape, punctuated by Wes Anderson-esque symmetry shots and an authentic score that only adds to the mayhem.
Bonkers...

This is not to say that it doesn't have its negatives - like every film. For many audience members, this film isn't going to satisfy. Many people that I know that saw IV were unhappy about the lack of coherence. If you are one such viewer: someone who likes to keep track of the story at all times, you may not be able to handle the 2.5hr run time. Also, those who are not familiar with the novel may become over - lost. The film offers little in the department for hilarious verbal interaction, and if you aren't partial to slapstick humour, it would be easy to dismiss the whole affair as a boring, unfunny mess.

When all is said and done, 'Inherent Vice' is well and truly a singular experience that needs to be seen to believed. Filled with beautiful shots, a stellar cast, a crazy soundtrack and some endlessly quotable moments, it will leave you breathless and confused as you stumble out of the theater and into the open air. Take the trip...
'Inherent Vice' gets 4 stars!

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