“It’s not groovy to be insane”
A Film Review : INHERENT VICE. Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
So, it’s a monday afternoon at the Odeon in Norwich, I pick up my ticket for Inherent Vice and rush into the screen because I’m running late; and the seats are empty, I’m the only one watching the film. I love an empty movie screen. I’d been looking forward to seeing this film for a little while, I clearly remember watching the trailer last year and having mixed thoughts about it – I don’t trust trailers too much anymore because they seem to have become some kind of seperate film in themselves – there have been countless times lately when I’ve misread the vibe of a film from a trailer ad, and this was one of them. It comes across as being some kind of wacky, ’60’s cop film, with a greatest hits record of the generation- which I guess is what some people want… But it was a lot simpler than that, more raw, real, and left my eye wandering the screen trying to take all the small details in at once.
Firstly, I must mention the ‘look’ of the film, the ‘vintage’ time period of the ’60’s rolling into the ’70’s look has been hot on so many mainsteam watchlists over the past few years, and so many of them have just got it wrong. But from watching Inherent Vice, I really think it’s worked, it has it and just makes you believe it without trying to hard. There has clearly been a great collaboration between the visual departments of the film – the set dressing, the art direction, the hair and makeup artistry all just blend into some really great, realistic ‘looks’ that really do make you feel like you could be watching a film from any time in the past 40 or so years, instead of a glossed over remake of the time, and I really appreciated this. The clothes genuinely looked like they were worn in, each scene had it’s own character, the places, the rooms, the cars; it felt lifelike, and surreal at the same time. I’m fed up of seeing girls in smock dresses with a modern-attempt at a beehive in these types of films. I mean, look at American Hustle, it’s a glossed over shiny look at the fashion and pop culture of the time, the story rolls all around the place, and although the clothing and the fashion looks nice (it does), it still looks overly dramatised – but look at the recognition it got, look at the audiences that rated it just because they thought it was a ‘big film’. The whole sense of style in the film really rounds out the individuals the story is inevitably about, and I recognise these people- even if theyre from my memory bank of time, or my nan’s photo album… I like the attention to detail, down to the dewy skinned makeup, the single hairs out-of-place for intent, and the frayed edges of shirts.
On the days leading up to finally seeing ‘Vice, I’d heard complete opposite-end-of-the-spectrum comments about the piece – it seemed like quite a LOVE/HATE thing going on. The haters couldn’t seem to handle to story, and the lovers, kind of loved it for this. I personally didn’t have much trouble following what was going on, I was more drawn into the film by the atmosphere and the way the whole mise-en-scene makes you get into Doc’s (Joaquin Phoenix’s) head. I liked the film because the script had more ups and downs than usual – I’m getting bored of waiting for ‘clicks’ in stories, and guessing when the next point will hit in films, because this scriptwriting structure is really starting to merge to me, and I almost like the unknowing. I like it when directors try something a little different, I like films being stripped back to the basics, and watching the simplicity of a scene play ahead, instead of following this new-wave mainstream way of making films, because it works for some- but I feel being open to varieties in storylines opens you up to appreciating the detail and personality of a film – and this did it for me!
It felt like there was a lot going on in the film, and a lot of online comments are saying “It’s the sort of film that needs two or three viewings”, and if you stop and think at certain points in the plot you will notice there are a lot of clever moments, just little things that get your brain working. And it’s always great when youre jolted in and out of a film and think “Wow, that was really cool”, instead of just following whats going on, so maybe a lot of people just can’t handle being able to immerse themselves. There weren’t drug-fueled ‘sequences’ as such, the film essentially builds you up into this world, but not in a wacky, hippy way; like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, it’s far more underlying, but constant and conceptual and doesn’t lose itself in the slightest. You will almost start to question yourself sometimes and wonder if you are really seeing things that are happening on screen, or in the background in a lot of instances.
The cast were great, they seemed to live their parts well, I didn’t think at any point these people weren’t real, they didn’t come across as caricature as in a lot of films of this time period. Phoenix was a great lead, I feel he should have got a lot more recognition for his part in this. There is a great line-up of names (Jena Malone, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Benicio del Toro, Reese Witherspoon) that crop up in the various branches of the ‘Vice world, and each have their own part to play in the telling of the overall piece.
I really enjoyed my viewing, I’d recommend it, and I’d ask people to sit back and enjoy the ride; “Change your hair, change your life” as Joanna Newsom would say.
Reviewed by Emmaalouise Smith for The Norwich Film Festival