Inherent Vice, review

Paul Thomas Anderson is a director known for his somewhat baffling approach to society in filmmaking. Bearded oil barons, teenage porn stars and, now, dope fiends and a stoned private investigator. Anderson’s work is often heralded for its use of visceral imagery and vivid color palette (not to mention, vivid imagination) and he has kind of entered cult territory in his position as director. With the trailer release of this year’s Inherent Vice we could be forgiven for thinking we were going to get much of the same quirkiness with his tale of ex-lovers, love triangles and 1960’s America. While the feature isn’t far off what Anderson is now so known for, it generally falls flat. With cinema walk-outs, a pretentiously long running-time and an incoherent plot (although I’m pretty sure that was the directors intention) Inherent Vice is, simply put, just a little bit of a let down.

katherine waterstone and joaquin phoenix in inherent vice

katherine waterstone and joaquin phoenix in inherent vice

Adapted from Thomas Pynchon’s novel (which received acclaim from critics) Anderson’s film follows the convoluted narrative of Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), an ex heroin addict still hopelessly in love with his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterstone, encapsulating the hippy spirit of the decade perfectly) and on the search for Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts, featured in only one scene and sorely missing from the majority).  Phoenix carries the entire film on his own – the ensemble cast is varied, with del Toro, Brolin, Wilson, Malone and Witherspoon all providing support in some sense. They might as well be invisible here. Phoenix as Doc is loveable, hilarious and our journey into his quirky world is at times, pretty damn interesting. Doc is someone who you wouldn’t mind having on your side, and though he may be in a drug-induced haze, he still does pretty well in the bizarre situations he finds himself in. Phoenix’s acting is equaled by Joanna Newsome’s incredible narration as Sortilege. Her on-screen appearance is lacking but her presence as narrator is probably one of the strongest elements in a film riddled with weaknesses. In fact, Newsome’s sultry, thoughtful and engulfing voice is one of the best ever heard on film – no exaggeration.

With all this positivity you’re probably asking ‘What could be wrong?’. The answer to that would be; muffled dialogue (in a plot that’s almost impossible to follow, quiet talking overtaken by a non-diegetic soundtrack doesn’t make it any easier). A running time of 149 minutes is so unnecessary in a film dominated by whimsical conversations about topics that quite literally, make no sense. Anderson’s direction is as indie as is acceptable within mainstream cinema but this becomes over-bearing towards the final scenes with a range of closed-shots used that leave you wanting room to breath (the final scene is dominated by thoughts of what is going on around Phoenix and Waterstone rather than the characters themselves). All focus is basically lost. The film goes nowhere, and you can’t help but feel you just wasted a couple hours, even if you were sat in the comfiest cinema seats around (thanks, Picturehouse).

Sure, Anderson’s script produces laughs (but mostly from dialogue featured in the trailer) and the soundtrack is killer – if you grew up in the 60’s you will be transported back to your youth with an up-beat tempo that produces plenty of toe-tapping. There are so many different components that could propel this film into greatness, but at no point do they come together to form one strong, coherent – and enjoyable – piece of cinema. Cult? Yes. For the majority? Definitely not. Even fans of the director’s more out-there works such as Boogie Nights will struggle with this one.



Boogie Nights Film Review

Heather Graham as Rollergirl

Well, what can I say? Fifteen years too late watching the now cult classic that is Boogie Nights. OK, so in all fairness, I was three years old when it was first released and an 18 rated film where a woman aptly named Rollergirl kicks someone in the face with her roller blades probably wasn’t the film to send me off to sleep at night.

So, what is Boogie Nights about? In case you aren’t sure, the film is set in 1977 and tells the story of 17 year old Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) and his rise to fame in the 70’s porn industry. Several other characters are important in this story, such as the cocaine addicted Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) who likes to think of herself as a mother to Dirk and Rollergirl (Heather Graham) but in reality is estranged from her real son, Andrew. At the center of these three is the fantastic, enigmatic, loveable Burt Reynolds as Jack Horner, a successful porn director.

What surprised me about this film was the dark elements which make up most of the story but the quite upbeat title which suggests this is a whimsical tale of 70’s fashion, lifestyle and obviously, erotic cinema of the time. When watching the film three things stood out to me: the soundtrack, Mark Wahlberg and the running time. Two positives, one, perhaps, negative. Lets begin with Mark Wahlberg. At the time of making he was just 26 years old and relatively early into his career, and he is absolutely mesmerizing as the young, naive and easily swayed Dirk. We see his character change from the impressionable young man he starts out as to an angry, diva porn star to a desperate drug addicted man and back again. These changes mean the audience love him, feel sympathetic for him and perhaps at times think ‘what a dick’, various responses which director Anderson cleverly manages to garner from the films spectators. This role for Wahlberg is one that to me, is a standout performance in his 20+ year career and for people who perhaps feel that in recent years, he has gone for the easier, blockbuster ‘Hollywood’ roles should see this, and see his unique talent (no pun intended).

The running time for this film is 155 minutes, a shockingly long amount of time for a film where actually, not a lot happens. There are about three stand out moments of ‘oh shit’ in the film and they all happen within twenty minutes of each other, in the final section of the story. Without ruining the story, for those of you who have not seen it, they are all of quite extreme violence. But saying that, this is not a film for the faint hearted nor easily offended. Yes, there is drug use, sex and moments of brutal violence, but none of it feels unnecessarily placed within the story.

The soundtrack in Boogie Nights is one of the most impressive and most enjoyable elements within the film, giving it that 70s feel which immerses you as an audience member and gets you dancing in your seat (as well as having a giggle at the actors dancing on screen). Overall, I liked the film but I don’t know if it is what you could call enjoyable, due to the third quarter of the story. Anderson directs the film at a slow pace but never lets it drag (I never felt like it should of ended earlier than it did) and makes every central character loveable, including the sensational Burt Reynolds who is superb as the lovable Jack Horner.

4/5 For a great story but long running time.