|'Like a stoned rabbit in wonderland, Doc meets and is crossed by a series of near grotesques who talk in code, idiocies, idiosyncrasies or worse: legal jargon.'|
Paul Thomas Anderson's aim as a director never seems to be to tell a simple-to-understand story, but it is to his eternal credit that his methods of obfuscation change with each passing film. Where his previous entry, The Master, jarred in its jagged edges, that hinted at mental illness amongst the characters, or at least something approaching unwitting misunderstanding, Inherent Vice is smooth.
It still, for a time, doesn't seem to make much sense. Characters still speak in non-sequiturs, timelines jump and have gaps inserted due to lack of consciousness amongst key players, interest on the director's part or just convenience when the script seems to need to move. Yet everything flows. If ever there was a film in which to forget the plot and just relax through the experience, this is it. A few years ago, Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers was infamously described by almost every mainstream film writer as a 'fever dream'. It wasn't and neither is Inherent Vice, but Anderson's film is certainly closer to that idea, which inherently calls to mind the influence of illegal substances, the dawning realisation that you're in some barely real hinterland, the idea that all is not quite well there.
Joaquin Phoenix as PI 'Doc' Sportello moves through the narrative like a vision of Hunter S. Thompson. Anderson's adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's novel nominally has Doc searching for disappeared ex-beau turned femme fatale Shasta Fay (Katherine Waterston), but, as previously intimated, the details hardly matter. Like a stoned rabbit in wonderland, Doc meets and is crossed by a series of near grotesques who talk in code, idiocies, idiosyncrasies or worse: legal jargon.
Highlights include 'Bigfoot' Bjornsen (Josh Brolin) and Sauncho Smilax (Benicio Del Toro), but wherever you look there's interest and character oozing out of everything. Del Toro is particularly effective. In a reversal of his The Usual Suspects role of twenty-odd years ago, he seems to be one of the few people who makes sense and explains the plot relatively clearly. Meanwhile, just when you thought you'd had enough character, Owen Wilson shows up and strikes a parody pose of da Vinci's The Last Supper, which is a little indulgent by Anderson but entirely forgiveable.
Oddly, the closest point of comparison that emerges for Inherent Vice, in terms of both quality, plot and elements of realisation, is Polanski's Chinatown. Anderson's film has a level of locational similarity, the PI lead and a plot which finally reveals itself to have elements including land, water and family. The tone might not be all there, but there's certainly something. Then again, there are times when it more resembles a 1970s sex comedy.
The serious stuff (and there is some... though not really in the 1970s sex comedy bits) is delivered by dialogue so rapid fire it would give Chris Tucker in full flow pause for concern. Anderson's script rarely, if ever, tips into exposition or overt moral reveals, a major victory, given how much of it there is. The closest things get is a segment where American life is discussed as 'something to be escaped from'. The liberal narrative of haves and have nots though does not need to be explained as something of an ode to counter culture, during both the film's era of Richard Nixon and today's era of (still) societal divides. As such, and in such entertaining a wrapper, this is the most entertaining and satisfying I have found Anderson for some time, possibly ever.