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December 12, 1992
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Doc Sportello’s profile was updated
Remember when Korey and Martin reviewed Inherent Vice? Korey didn’t like it and Martin hated it. They were both so thrown off by the movie that they didn’t even put it up as its own review. As someone who loved the movie, I feel it would be fair to shine some more light on the film now that time has passed and we can fairly critique the movie for what it really is. This review is not meant to put down other people’s opinions on the film, but rather highlight some things that may have went by unnoticed and give it fresh perspective to either convince people to give this another watch or suggest newcomers to watch it with different expectations. Infamous for its hard-to-follow plot, Inherent Vice is a 2 1/2 hour, head scratching shaggy dog mystery, adapted by acclaimed film-maker Paul Thomas Anderson, based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon, about hippie and private eye Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) on the hunt for his missing ex-girlfriend, Shasta Fay Hepwroth (Katherine Waterson), after she unveils to him that she is involved in a plot to throw her millionaire boyfriend, Mickey Wolfmann, in the looney bin. Marketed as a wild and fun stoner comedy, Inherent Vice shook up audiences with not only its complex plot but its slow pacing, quiet/inaudible nature and surprisingly light touch of comedy in what we thought was going to be a festival of gut busting comedy; The film would face false expectations and would eventually be dismissed by audiences on the grounds of severe disappointment. Despite my personal opinions, there are fair reasons as to why this happened.The film’s plot is completely up in smoke. Doc’s main concern is to locate the whereabouts of Shasta in the traditional film-noir manner: Gaining new leads and meeting new characters who push him along the mystery from point A to point B, step-by-step. But what’s seen as tradition of the genre turns into sensory overload as the movie
drops so much information and introduces so many new characters (A lot of whom
are never referred to again) that it’s practically impossible to completely
connect every single piece of information, at least on the first viewing, and the fact that the characters quietly exhange dialogue throughout the film makes it harder to pick up on as well.Speaking of quiet, it’s not only the dialogue that’s sometimes barley audible, but the movie itself doesn’t seem to be very loud either. Johnny Greenwood’s beautiful compositions and some ace music selections chosen by Paul himself aren’t focused on very often and play as if they’re just sitting in the background, and this came as a huge surprise when fans of the director originally saw Inherent Vice as a “return to form” to his 2nd film, Boogie Nights, also set in the 70s’, where the music was used in a Scorsese-esque manner, treating it like a jukebox that accommodates the style and dresses the era the movie is set in. Not so much here. It all just comes and goes, topped with the quiet performances. In conjunction with the film’s quiet nature and overwhelmingly confusing plot, the movie’s pacing is very off putting. Looking backing on the trailer, the movie looked fast, on beat, and seemed to have “humor” waiting around every corner. Turns out the movie is slow, off beat and sparingly gives the humor in tiny spoonfuls. The length of Doc’s journey is a long one and the seemingly lack of a cohesive core bored audiences, which in turned caused people to toss it to the side and forget about it. But was this truly a case of a movie that “missed” its target? Or rather, was it a classic example of a movie so bold in its direction that it left audiences bewildered and unappreciative?As already stated, the movie has been criticized for being impenetrable and difficult to folow. But a common factor that seems to be ignored is that the film is with the audience on the confusion. We see the entire movie through Doc’s perspective and he is just as lost as the viewer is on the matter. There’s a brief scene that says it all: Doc is drawing a map of all the information he knows, trying to link everyone and everything so he can figure out what the hell is going on but he can’t! And the viewer is not alone on this! Doc is the leading man of the story and we see the entire thing through his perspective. What are the chances of getting a grasp on the situation when there’s so much going on, yet, the leading man is constantly stoned and out of it? If his perspective is too foggy from the pot, then the film’s focus on paranoia doesn’t help either. The after affects of the 60s’ are passed over in 1970 (the film’s setting), and the paranoia is setting in for the folks who are ill-fated to be lost artifacts of a lost generation (Hippies). If that’s the case with combined efforts of weed and paranoia, can he take everything he sees at face value? Does everything truly link to Shasta’s disappearance? Are things really what they seem to be? Does it even matter? Could Shasta really be gone? Could she be dead? Who are these people? Are they out to get him? Without spoon feeding, among other very small factors, the movie is telling the audience “Your guess is as good as ours.” The movie not only wants you to see Doc scratch his head in confusion, but also wants you to scratch your head with him, almost as if you are him. The primary focus shouldn’t be to figure out the mystery but to feel the bizarre process of a stoned mind tryping to keep itself in check and not let reality slip it by at the possible cost of someone’s life. To further elaborate on the movie’s quiet nature, this choice could very well attribute to the fact that the movie has a melancholic atmosphere where something cherished is slipping through the cracks. When something important disapears, it’s haunting the way how it always lingers in the back of one’s mind. The film’s soundtrack is the soundtrack of the past, and just like the past, the music slowly lingers in the background until it fades away. What thing of the past is fading away for Doc? Shasta? The 60s’? It’s disheartening. Doc may be a laughably quirky hippie surrounded by quirky people but it’s hard to laugh out loud when the things our leading man cherishes the most are slipping away from him as time goes by, making the comedy in this film ride the wave of subtlety and nuance instead of loud and hilarious humor. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that the film isn’t funny or forgets about it’s quirky setting. It’s just that it’s executed in a way where the humor and characters don’t overshadow the movie’s intended melancholy of cherished nostalgia slowly fading away. Underneath the surface, it’s romantic at heart. It’s a burning bowl of weed meant for two but can only be smoked by one. Well, that’s more for you, right? Sure. But that doubled amount of weed doubles not only the side effects, but also the yearn for what could’ve been had you smoked with your other half, and those possibilities are just going up in smoke. At the end of the journey, whether or not you completely figured out the mystery is pointless. Rather than “Inherent Vice,” the movie should have been called “Inside Doc Sportello,” as the movie embarks on a look into how the paranoid and intoxicated mind can untangle itself in a web of conspiracy and questionable-evil when there’s only one thing being sought for: Shasta. Paul Thomas Anderson showed with his previous film, The Master, that he’s no stranger to subtle story telling, so subtle that you have to watch the movie again in order to get a better understanding. The more you watch it, the more you get out of it, and the more you get out of it, the more you’ll like it or at least appreciate it. Inherent Vice is no exception here. In my personal experience, I didn’t know what to make of the film when I saw it for the first time. But I watched mutiple times after and found that there’s so much to learn everytime the film is re-watched. As a result, it became my favorite for 2014. The movie also shares a lot with Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye” and a little bit with the Coens’ “The Big Lebowski,” two shaggy dog, stoner mystery films. All 3 films received flack upon their opening releases and flopped due to their misleading campaigns and off-the-wall style. It took a while before The Long Goodbye and The Big Lebowski were appreciated and it might be the same case for Inherent Vice. But regardless of how the film will fare in the future, I hope this review might be the starting point for all you toastees (And the main Double Toasted crew as well) to see the movie in a different light and give it another chance. Inherent Vice is unique in its approach, has GORGEOUS cinematography, a great soundtrack, and great performances from everyone involved, but it’s definitely not for everyone and can only be recommended if you want to watch something new, different and amusing. If you’re looking for a film that does nothing else but entertain, this probably isn’t for you, and that’s a rule that applies to any Pynchon related work.I give it a Full Price.
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