INHERENT VICEMuch has been discussed on Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest feature. Based on the reclusive and notoriously difficult Thomas Pynchon’s novel, Inherent Vice marks the first time someone has attempted to tackle Pynchon’s complicated and sprawling prose. Pynchon is not an author I have ever particularly cooperated with, although saying that I have only read one (his latest, Bleeding Edge) and found it in desperate need of an edit and a tightening of structure. But when a film-maker such as PTA takes on the material, well, you just have to take a look for yourself.

Much of the criticism of Inherent Vice has been concerned with the plot, or lack thereof a coherent plot. There is enough to cling on to, most of the time, as we follow Private Detective Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), in California, circa-1970. Doc is not your typical P.I., as he is a man who follows the hippie lifestyle and conducts his investigations through a marijuana fuelled haze. When Doc is approached by his ex-girlfriend, Shasta (Katherine Featherstone), who asks him to make sure her new lover, Real Estate Mogul Mickey Wolfmannn (Eric Roberts), is not abducted by his wife and sent to a mental institution. This is just the first case in a series of cases which end up being connected in the strangest ways. inherentvice2

The lack of coherence in the plot is not as extreme as some critics have made it out to be, but there is a certain haze to the proceedings which can cause you, at times, to lose track of exactly who some of the characters are, or what their involvement is. But in a way, that is kinda the point. PTA constructs an experience which is aligned with Doc’s drug-fuelled prospective of life on the sunny shores of California. The experiences he has on the different drugs he partakes in are aptly conveyed aesthetically, with the actions and reactions Doc has convincingly portraying a drug experience much better than any film has before. It isn’t over the top, like most features tend to do, PTA just simply lets action unfold in what appears to be a perfectly conventional fashion, but in a delightfully warped way.

inherentvice3Shooting on 35mm, Anderson re-creates the 70’s in a visually arresting fashion. Anderson has always shown a reverence for cinema of the past, and here he puts that knowledge into constructing an aesthetic which feels organic to the 1970’s. In much the same way as The Master captured a 50’s aesthetic, Inherent Vice presents a 1970 which looks as though it was plucked from the cinema of that era. It is always a joy to see a film-maker shooting on film and demonstrating how much depth and atmosphere can be drawn from using celluloid.

The sprawling story features many characters, which is part the reason why it is often hard to follow. PTA has gathered together an exceptional pool of talent, with many famous faces often appearing in roles that rarely amount to anything more than a glorified cameo. The stand out of the cast is, of course, Phoenix, who demonstrates a deft hand at slapstick humour, as well as being capable of feeling volatile at times. Josh Brolin also proves excellent at the more comedic elements, yet also manages to construct a fragile masculinity in his role as hard-bitten, anti-hippie cop Bigfoot. Katherine Featherstone makes an impression as the seductive and coy Shasta, and I imagine we will be seeing a great deal more from the up and coming actress. inherentvice4

Ultimately, Inherent Vice proved to be a trip I enjoyed, despite its rather testing run-time. It is both an exercise in production design and performance, as Anderson lets his camera linger on performances within different settings, amounting in very long uninterrupted conversations, some of which don’t add anything and others which deliver too much detail at once. It can be a frustrating experience, but it is one that is very easy to jive with if you just submit yourself to the mentality and odd sense of temporality. It’s a unique joint, so just kick back, smoke up, and enjoy the high.

4/5- Not everyone will partake, but PTA’s latest is a ride with a groovy 70’s vibe that is quite unlike anything you’ve seen before.