I had a very distinct feeling after leaving the midnight screening of Inherent Vice (and not because it was 2:30 in the morning and I had been subsisting on champagne and diet coke for eight hours). It was reminiscent of something that I couldn't put my finger on. I wasn't sure what the hell had just happened on the screen, and I wasn't sure that I cared. I just knew that whatever it was, was awesome.
Then it hit me. The '90s! I hadn't felt this confused and excited by a film since the '90s. Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Magnolia, Eyes Wide Shut. I had been on a ride similar to the roller coasters I boarded when I went to go see those films.
The plot of Inherent Vice is hard to follow. I started reading the book about a month ago and haven't gotten past the 100th page because I keep going back to read pages over again that I think may unlock some key to digesting the story completely. Paul Thomas Anderson has passed over explanation and gone directly to character studies and storytelling. I'm not sure he completely understands what happens in the film (or book) either. So, at least I am in good company.
The overview goes like this: Doc Sportello (played by Joaquin Phoenix) is a P.I. who takes a case that his ex-girlfriend Shasta (played by Katherine Waterston) asks for his help on. Her new mans' wife has concocted a scheme to commit him to an institution. From there, Doc finds himself in a drug-fueled haze of druggie dentists (Martin Short), a cartel called Golden Fang, a presumed dead saxophonist (Owen Wilson) and a detective that goes by the name of Bigfoot (played perfectly by Josh Brolin).
That being said, once you relax and let the story happen instead of trying to figure out what is going on, Inherent Vice is fantastic.
It's no surprise to anyone that Phoenix hates doing press, and it was no different with this premiere. (I'll save you the details, but he is and always will be the cross-armed kid in chucks that is being forced to sit at the dinner table with his parents friends during press conferences.) But press and performance are worlds apart, and as far as I'm concerned he can throw a temper tantrum at every press conference for eternity as long as we continue to see the electric performances we have all come to expect from him.
I haven't seen a Joaquin Phoenix film since I'm Still Here back in 2010. I was reminded of what a brilliant actor he is. Not only did he bring an innocence to a role that could have been played much darker, but he brought a physical humor to it that was reminiscent of Johnny Depp's Raoul Duke.
Comparatively unknown actress Katherine Waterston holds her own in a handful of scenes. Fan favorite Martin Short does not disappoint and brings the humor of the film to its height during his brief time on camera. Benecio Del Toro is solid as always, and Josh Brolin has undeniable chemistry with Phoenix. The cherry on top of Inherent Vice are the tête-à-tête's between Brolin and Phoenix throughout the film. For my money, it doesn't get much better than that.
Paul Thomas Anderson hasn't made a film like this with an ensemble cast in over a decade. Though films like There Will Be Blood and The Master have their own place in cinema, I have been reminded of what it was that made me enjoy Paul Thomas Anderson films to begin with.