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When private eye Doc Sportello’s (Joaquin Phoenix) ex-old lady shows up out of nowhere with a story about her current billionaire land developer boyfriend whom she just happens to be in love with, and a plot by his wife and her boyfriend to kidnap that billionaire and throw him in a loony bin. It’s the tail end of the psychedelic ‘60s and paranoia is running the day and Doc knows that ‘love’ is another of those words going around at the moment, like ‘trip’ or ‘groovy,’ that’s being way too overused – except this one usually leads to trouble. (From Warner Bros. official synopsis)

 Inherent Vice
Paul Thomas Anderson’s first three films – Hard Eight (1996), Boogie Nights (1997), and Magnolia (1999) – were multi-character-driven tributes to pivotal ‘70s filmmakers, especially Martin Scorsese and Robert Altman. Like Quentin Tarantino, he produced poppy, energetic, yet very modern tributes to the era. Following a stylistic break with the more singularly focused Punch Drunk Love (2002), these early films became a sort of stylistic trilogy. Punch Drunk Love became a comma that divided his career as Anderson matured away from making clever, plot-heavy movies with wild camera moves and found inspiration in a classic, studio system Hollywood films. There Will Be Blood (2007), did away with witty dialogue and showy cinematographic tricks in order to focus on actors’ performances and stoic, natural photography. The Master (2012) more or less followed suit, setting the stage for a new conceptual trilogy that moved away from Scorsese & Altman and toward John Huston & John Ford.

Inherent Vice has thrown another monkey wrench in the increasingly irrelevant process of pigeonholing Anderson’s creative career. Instead of completing his Huston/Ford trilogy, it supplants Punch Drunk Love (now an apparent one-off) as the missing link between the two trilogies, mixing disco-pop and American folk into a new, but completely familiar brand of cinematic music. The most obvious point of reference is probably Altman’s smooth and (then) modern adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye (1973), which itself was an homage to/revision of the Hollywood noir that Huston had helped define in the 1940s. A more popular reference point would be the Coen Brothers’ Big Lebowski, which also sticks an out-of-his-depth burnout in a traditional film noir situation, specifically Chandler’s work. Here, Anderson is acting as a third generation revisionist, working from a relatively new, but equally referential novel by post-modernist writer Thomas Pynchon (note: I haven’t read a single Pynchon book, so my assumptions on his work are based only on a couple of questions I asked friends – you know, real journalism).

 Inherent Vice
Despite my time as a ‘professional’ movie watcher, I have never been very good at following the storylines of even standard-issue detective or espionage movies. In this case, I’m honestly not sure if a more analytical mindset would’ve severed my experience any more than my typically scattered focus. Anderson doesn’t so much avoid making sense of the mystery as treat it as an incidental part of his rather impressionistic approach to the well-worn pulp detective genre. Had I been the type of person that can fathom this type of storytelling, I might be more frustrated that new characters and plot elements are introduced every ten minutes. In my natural state, it all felt relatively normal, because Anderson’s relaxed, diaphanous flow and interlacing images override the narrative spaghetti. I also suspect that watching the film a second time will reveal recurring themes and amusing clues – the kinds of things that make subsequent viewings satisfying.

The deceptively lax structure fits the creative path Anderson has set over his career, but the nearly two-hour and twenty-minute runtime does stretch the hazy stream a bit thin. The structure could be informed by Doc’s drug-addled state, but just as likely another creative choice. The problem is that the choices that made There Would Be Blood so gratifyingly enigmatic tend to hinder Inherent Vice in the long run, because we are meant to really like most of these characters. The performances are warm and amiable, but the format holds them at an arm’s length from the audience (seemingly on purpose). On the other hand, the structure does serve the comedy well. Anderson’s last two movies were so intense and emotionally stifling that I had feared that the occasionally bawdy and silly Paul Thomas Anderson of Boogie Nights was gone. The biggest laughs are found in the descriptive dialogue (which I assume was taken directly from Pynchon’s book), but the unexpected lewd gags and Phoenix’s hilariously bug-eyed responses also induce hearty giggles.

 Inherent Vice

Video


After his grand experiment shooting the majority of The Master on 70mm (65mm after the soundtrack is taken into account), Anderson and his long-time cinematographer Robert Elswit returned to 35mm for Inherent Vice. This 1.85:1, 1080p transfer is appropriately rough compared to the more detailed footage of The Master, encapsulating its broad dynamic range as well as inherent imperfections in the stock. It’s actually kind of remarkable how much this looks like an authentic ‘70s period release and refreshing to see how seriously Anderson and Elswit are treating the format, unlike so many filmmakers that cling to the idea of physical film, while others douse their 35mm material with excessive digital grading. Textures and clarity are limited by the constant screen of grain, the high contrast look (black and white levels tend to pool), the smoky, diffused lighting, and basic film-based artefacts (mostly edge haloes). What does escape the brew is plenty sharp and complex without any notable sign of compression. The colours are eclectic, rich, and naturalistic.

Audio


Inherent Vice is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound. It’s not an aurally aggressive affair – ambient noise and set-captured dialogue define the bulk of the track and are, for the most part, generally centered (there are exceptions, of course). But the dry, natural clarity of this mix is important to the film’s consistent stream of musical accompaniment. Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood returns for his third collaboration with Anderson since There Will Be Blood. This time, the composer brings a ‘70s rock vibe, complete with the whirring dissonance vibe that made their previous collaborations so oddly disturbing. The score slides around the speakers without bringing too much direct attention to itself. The popular music interludes, which include period-appropriate songs from Neil Young, The Cascades, Sam Cooke, and more, blend into the melodic mould and tend to run without cuts, even as the scenes they inspire have finished.

 Inherent Vice

Extras


The only extras are a series of narrated montages, which run about 2:00 a pop and basically equate to trailers.

Overall


It never quite connects into a coherent whole, but Inherent Vice is an interesting chapter in Paul Thomas Anderson’s ever fascinating career. It at least proves that, even when he’s taking wrong turns, Anderson is a vibrant filmmaker. The 35mm imagery looks great on this Blu-ray release, including all of the appropriate artefacts, the soundtrack is mellow and clean, and the extras are pretty much non-existent, save four trailers.

 Inherent Vice

 Inherent Vice

 Inherent Vice
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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