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Film Review: Inherent Vice (★★★)

NYFF: Paul Thomas Anderson has created an odd monster with a stunning ensemble and surreal standouts…

inherent_viceNEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: Let’s start this off with a reward offering.  I’ll pay anyone $20 if they can explain to me, in detail, the full plot and synopsis of “Inherent Vice,” front to back.  That’s a good place to start, eh?

The New York Film Festival press and audiences given the gift of a first look at Paul Thomas Anderson‘s hotly anticipated “Inherent Vice” starring Joaquin Phoenix and an all-star cast.  Based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon, rumors flew about for months that the novel is a tough read and that the translation from book to film could be confusing in the hands of an auteur filmmaker like Anderson.  Well, to a certain extent, they are absolutely correct.  “Inherent Vice” is such a mind trip, one that will probably make you want to enroll in drug rehab by the end credits.  What’s amazing about it is even though you, nor I will probably “get it,” and there’s way more questions than answers at the moment, I cannot wait to revisit it again to start seeking those things out.  You can see a little of Anderson’s entire filmography.

Our “basic synopsis” is the story of Larry “Doc” Sportello, who in the 1970’s, begins to search for his missing former girlfriend.  The other things that accompany those facts, is a hallucination of laughs, satire, and magnificent filmmaking abilities.

Let’s start with thanking the good Lord for Paul Thomas Anderson and his love of 35mm.  Even though the screening did not show the film in that quality (the public screening however did), there’s a charm that’s still embedded within all of Anderson’s film that pays homage to all the classic films of history.  This is also partly thanks to Academy Award winning DP Robert Elswit, who can frame a scene to tension and success.  Much like his past efforts such as “The Master,” “There Will Be Blood,” and “Boogie Nights,” there’s a magnitude of a visual master’s exercises on display.  He crafts provocative and engaging players that fully mesmerize you for its duration.  

On the top of his game, once again is the genius that is Joaquin Phoenix.  He’s hilarious, and nothing like “The Dude” as many will compare him.  He’s a three-dimensional character with layers, fully invested in the story, and best of all, utterly believable.  In a quirky, detective mystery such as this, you expect some outrageous behavior that can sometimes run false.  Call me crazy, I believed nearly all.  Phoenix is pure, ludicrous, and keeps you fixated entirely.  You couldn’t ask for a more dependable thespian at this time in cinema.  There’s even a weird but obvious comparison to Freddie Quell, as if Freddie’s illegitimate child got into drugs and missed out on the alcoholism.

The supporting players are as rich as any Anderson creation before.  Finally back to large ensembles, where he has shined time and time again in films like “Magnolia,” he assembles one of the strongest casts seen in 2014.  Like a rock and roll star, Josh Brolin owns the stage with a savage and vicious dedication to his character, which stands out as one of the finest performances of the year.  I adored him, and it might be his finest outing yet, and something that could ring him some much deserved awards attention.  

inherentvice_phoenix_waterstonIf you don’t know her name yet, Katherine Waterston will be on the tongues of many for years to come.  As Shasta Fay Hepworth, you’ll find an enigmatic character with an entrancing and sensual aura.  At times, feeling like a mixture of Rollergirl from “Boogie Nights” and Claudia Wilson Gator from “Magnolia,” Waterston is one of the most engrossing and compelling characters of the year.  It’s an awards worthy performance, baring the soul of a performer that understands her purpose, Waterston is plain magnificent.  

You will get big chuckles from Benicio del Toro, Owen Wilson, and Martin Short, all of which make their mark.  In one strong scene, Jena Malone leaves her mark while Michael Kenneth Williams could have set the screen on fire with more time than what he was given.  Sasha Pieterse (fabulous as always), Reese Witherspoon (reminding us why we loved Johnny and June Cash together so much), Eric Roberts (yearning for a larger role at this time in his career), Joanna Newsom (our new female Morgan Freeman of this generation’s narrators), and Maya Rudolph (who needs to team up with hubby more often), all shine.

Why the world isn’t recognizing Jonny Greenwood as one of the most innovative and talented composers yet is beyond me.  Once again, everything on-screen is elevated by his eerie composition and whimsical take on the 70’s aura.  Not to mention, the soundtrack may be THE album of the year.  You can’t tell me that you won’t have that on repeat seconds after viewing.  You also get a richly realized costume design by Mark Bridges and honest sets by David Crank and Amy Wells.  It’s a technical masterpiece for sure.

Inherent Vice” is such a strange demon.  Hard to say you love, if you don’t comprehend it all yet, but with enough magic to keep coming back for more.  It’s one of the best offbeat and pecuilar monsters seen on screen this year, and you just might fall for its potent nature.

The film is distributed by Warner Bros. and opens in theaters on December 12, 2014 before expanding on January 9, 2015.

What do you think?


Written by Clayton Davis

Clayton Davis is the esteemed Editor and Owner of Born in Bronx, NY to a Puerto Rican mother and Black father, he’s been criticizing film and television for over a decade. Clayton is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association where he votes and attends the kick off to the awards season, the Critics Choice Awards. He also founded the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association, the first Latino-based critics’ organization in the United States. He’s also an active member of the African-American Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, International Press Academy, Black Reel Awards, and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. Clayton has been quoted and appeared in various outlets that include The New York Times,, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter.


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