INHERENT VICE , adapted from the book by Thomas Pynchon, kept me entertained for most of its first hour, before it doggedly spun itself into The Great Excess Hole. I ceased grinning, stopped caring and almost quit breathing during the second hour and a half (it runs a numbing 148 minutes). One word kept percolating below my roiled surface, and I was trying to be polite to the person watching the film with me by holding off saying the word until the film ‘ended’ (it does several times)–minus the expected 8 or 9 minutes of credit crawl. But…director-co writer Paul Thomas Anderson finally triumphed, yanking it out of my exploding-constricting throat maybe two short minutes before the last scene. “This…is…EXCRUCIATING!”
Thomas Pynchon is supposed to be a genius, according to the four people who have actually finished one of his ‘works’ (I tried “Gravity’s Rainbow” and after fifteen pages of its 760 I was ready to volunteer-test a diving suit in the Marianas Trench) and he helped wunderkind Anderson craft the screenplay for this stuffed, meandering satire of private eyes/hippies/California/the 60s/druggies/coherence.
Anderson gets fine work from actors, and he has a great visual sense with his cameramen, but he seems to enjoy wallowing in ugliness for its own sake, and desperately needs to learn how to E-D-I-T. His previous film was The Master, which was likewise outrageous in its pretension.
Joaquin Phoenix does a good job here, and there are missions of actorish conviction from Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon and Benecio del Toro. Newcomers Katherine Waterson and Joanne Newsome get plenty of screen time (too much). Martin Short digs into his few scenes with a fury, and Eric Roberts has one superb bit. Also on hand are Jena Malone, Maya Rudolph and Hong Chau.
It drew Oscar nominations for Screenplay (I give up) and Costume Design. Costing $20,000,000, it made back half. I wonder how many people walked out of this in theaters? My guess is a lot. Reviews were split (as I knew they would be when watching it) between those who thought it was amazing, and those who found it agonizing.
Anderson, like the other Anderson, the tasking Wes, has a cult of devotees who apparently will swallow whatever he dishes, and find ‘relevance’, in the same vein as steadfast Altmanoids or Kubrickians. Lincoln was right, about being able to fool some of the people all the time. If you want to swim in Anderson’s tank, jump in. Do me a favor, don’t shake head knowingly, smile paternally and tell me “you don’t get it”. I get it—I just don’t buy it or like it. If you want to define Impenetrable as Brilliant, be my guest. Squandering talent and wasting time, the director of Magnolia and There Will Be Blood better come up with a winner next go-round or I’ll pass: I don’t have that many life-minutes to waste on watching actors debase themselves.
One moderately entertaining exercise with this film is digging into the assorted commentaries; scan the worshipful positive reviews, glance over the cast’s gushing praise of the ‘freedom’ Anderson gave them, and then read the critics who weren’t conned.