“Inherent Vice” is one righteous trip

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here’s no better director who lets the mood sit than Paul Thomas Anderson. Some filmmakers will make quick cuts for the sake of style, while others may let a scene drag on with no destination in sight. With Anderson, every single shot is used to help the scene breath, give actors a chance to perform and highlight the achievements of the cinematographer and writing. The opening scene of “Boogie Nights,” the interview in “The Master” and the oil derrick explosion in “There Will Be Blood” are just a few examples of his gravitas.

In his new film “Inherent Vice,” based on the Thomas Pynchon novel, Joaquin Phoenix plays Larry “Doc” Sportello, a private eye who is either constantly high or just is perpetually out of it. His ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterson) walks back into his life worried that her rich real estate developer boyfriend (Eric Roberts) has been kidnapped and she needs Doc to sort everything out. That is the gist of the giant ball of yarn that is the plot. There are also other subplots about a coked up dentist (Martin Short), a drug trafficking gang and Josh Brolin’s detective character dabbling in the world of acting. Pynchon’s novels tend to center on hippie paranoia and government resistance and those themes translate well to the screen.

"Inherent Vice" | Courtesy WB
“Inherent Vice” | Courtesy WB

There is a scene where Doc is listening to Shasta explain her recent departure and the complexities of why she left. The scene simmers like a fine stew in that it soaks up the emotions of the characters and plays on the logic of the audience. With Anderson’s steady camera, you’re not sure if you’re interpreting the scene differently from another person in the theatre. There are plenty of scenes like this in the film. That might throw the audience for a loop, but it helps bring layers to the picture.

Interpretation is one of the most common words thrown around in the Paul Thomas Anderson lexicon. He’s so skilled at coaching actors, layering his writing and positioning the camera to give every scene meaning. Phoenix’s character is a paranoid rebel and Anderson’s work parlays that into making us feel with that along with him. If you can get through the fog of marijuana smoke and follow along with the unthreading of the plot, you’ll feel as paranoid and inquisitive as Doc. “Inherent Vice” isn’t at the top of the Anderson filmography, I still maintain that “There Will Be Blood” is his best, but his attempt at adapting a Pynchon novel to the screen hits the mark and is a rich addition to his filmography.

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