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Saturday 17 January 2015

Burl reviews Inherent Vice! (2014)

Hi, Burl here to tell you about a mistake I made! “Ha ha, but Burl," I hear you saying, "I thought you were infallible!”  No, Burl makes mistakes, rest assured, and one I made recently was reading Inherent Vice just before seeing it! I think to properly appreciate the movie, I should have read the book a half-decade ago, when it came out, and watched the movie with only a fuzzy recollection of the story, and therefore a good deal of confusion on the plot points and dialogue, as clearly intended by the filmmaker!
Instead, owing to my very recent read of the book, I had a fairly good idea what was going on at any given time, and my viewing, I believe, was thereby compromised! This does not mean I didn’t enjoy the picture, however! It was nearly as amusing and entertaining as I’d hoped it would be, with nearly the immersive period quality and pictorial brilliance I’d, I felt reasonably, expected! You’ll notice the qualifiers! I assume some raggedy edges were left by design, but some frayed fringes seemed, well, accidental!
It’s a shaggy-detective story, which of course is a subgenre I like! From The Long Goodbye and Night Moves, through The Big Fix and up to The Big Lebowski, the peaks of this style are hard to beat, and I’ve mostly avoided the (no doubt copious and profound) valleys! Here, in the newest jewel of the shaggy-detective crown, we have Doc Sportello, hippie shamus, and his plunge into mystery with disappearances and murders swirling about him; and all of it somehow connected to the Golden Fang, which is at once a boat, an international hero*n syndicate and a generalized representation of the baneful forces arrayed against nature’s children!
Joaquin Phoenix plays Doc, and Josh “Goonies” Brolin, in one of the film’s most uproarious performance, essays the role of his cop nemesis, “Bigfoot” Bjornson! Many, many other characters are trotted out through the long running time, including an addled dentist played by Martin Short from ¡ThreeAmigos! and Innerspace; a chronically tractable surf-sax player played by Owen Wilson of Midnight in Paris fame; a construction baron embodied by Eric Roberts from Runaway Train and A Talking Cat?!?; and a receptionist played by Maya Rudolph from The Way Way Back! And unfortunately I knew who all of them were and was able to keep them straight in my mind through the whole picture, which is not as it was meant to be! No, I should have been confused by this kaleidoscope of characters and clues and events, and by this confusion made malleable and porous, and thereby infected with the spirit and atmosphere, and copious doobiesm*ke, of the picture!
Oh well! A few dodgy performances and some clumsy or anachronistic bits of dialogue aside, I enjoyed the movie! It was clearly made on a budget, but they made the most of it, and the period details are pretty well arrayed! It shares with Withnail & I a shocked wistfulness for an era suddenly past, along with a hearty cynicism for the decade just beginning! As the first Thomas Pynchon book to be made into a movie (no, that miniseries V doesn’t count!), Inherent Vice holds up its end of the deal, and it makes me feel groovy to give it three descendents!

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