Deliciously delirious. Or is that deliriously delicious?
Inherent Vice Film Review
Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest feast is a drug-addled ensemble cast mystery noir that’s part The Big Lebowski, part The Long Goodbye.With an almost meandering plot that skips near-incoherently from one crazy scene to the next, fathoming your way through the intricacies of Inherent Vice’s core tale(s) is an arduous task, and an argument could be made for simply going with it instead; being almost better absorbed than understood. It deals more in characters and events, with Joaquin Phoenix’s dope-smoking private investigator, Doc, drawn into a web of drugs, kidnapping, murder thanks to a series of seemingly unconnected cases – mostly involving missing persons, and almost all leading back to the ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterson) he’s still in love with. With help from Benicio del Toro’s dodgy lawyer, and a little less help from his current girlfriend, Reese Witherspoon, Doc searches for a lost husband (Owen Wilson) and a potentially kidnapped real estate developer (Eric Roberts), whilst evading/attracting the thuggish brutality of Josh Brolin’s dogged Police Detective.Author Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel Inherent Vice is pure anti-noir, juxtaposing the traits of classic thrillers from decades earlier with the shifting tides of hippie freedom and paranoid conspiracies at the end of the 60s. Director P.T. Anderson embraces this (winning Best Adapted Screenplay awards in the process), admitting to influence from Altman’s seminal anti-noir take on Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, which is only apt as there’s so much Altman in this multi-layered affair driven by so many colourful characters. In many ways a detour from some of Anderson’s recent straight stories – like the hit-and-miss The Master, and his masterpiece There Will Be Blood – this is more reminiscent of his first few comedy-dramas, including the tonally pitch perfect Punch Drunk Love (a rare piece of genuine Adam Sandler acting). It may not be to everybody’s tastes, but for those who enjoy it, there is so damn much to enjoy here, and so much to soak up on a second viewing.
Blu-ray Picture QualityInherent Vice arrives on Region Free UK Blu-ray with a largely excellent 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen. Benefiting from the 35mm cinematography of Robert Elswit, a longtime collaborate of Anderson’s, who also lensed Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (and the upcoming Rogue Nation), this is an oftentimes gorgeous film packed with striking shots and perfect framing.
Retaining its filmic qualities and peppered with a few entirely forgivable niggles which keep it from reference perfection, this is still a gorgeous-looking film.
Detail is excellent throughout, with skin textures, facial hair, clothing weaves, background textures and landscape shots all remaining resoundingly clear, and no overt signs of digital tinkering beyond a little negligible haloing. The colour scheme manages to at once stay true to its period setting whilst also ramping up some vibrant primaries, and leaving skin tones healthy throughout. Black levels are strong without any other problems beyond the slightest hint of crush, and overall any minor niggles you might find strewn across the piece largely go unnoticed in what is a surprisingly organic-looking demo presentation that really isn’t that far off a top score.
Blu-ray Sound QualityThe accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is also excellent, with plenty of engaging song tracks to round off a memorable score and strong sound design for the effects, which remain atmospherically-minded for the most part.
The Anderson/Pynchon universe comes to veritable life with this impressive audio.
Dialogue remains clear and coherent throughout – notwithstanding the lead character’s intentionally incoherent mumbling – and gets prioritisation across the front and centre channels where appropriate. Effects are acutely observed, bringing the soundstage to life with night life, crashing ocean waves, bustling streets and busy workplaces; it’s all driven towards providing a healthy, heady environment, and it does so with aplomb. With some understated but still evident LFE input, this is another demo rendering.
Blu-ray ExtrasFar from impressive on the extras front, all we get are a smattering of tiny 2-minute promos for the film, together with a single additional scene. Disappointing.
Incoherent Vice Blu-ray VerdictAtmospheric and intoxicating, quirky and offbeat, elusive but alluring, Inherent Vice trades noir for anti-noir, and delivers the unexpected at every turn. With that Cohen Brothers vibe to it, if you’ve seen and enjoyed The Big Lebowski then that’s a good start towards likely appreciating this, particularly with regards to the humour-infused mystery, although the Chandler-esque detective vibe borrows more from the classic Altman take on Raymond Chandler / Phillip Marlowe, The Long Goodbye.
It’s a thick and heady mix, with so many strands it would have impressed Alexandre Dumas, but there’s something strangely intoxicating about this ensemble enigma.
The UK Region Free release boasts excellent video and audio but a rather surprising near-absence of extras (at least for a Paul Thomas Anderson film), and comes as a recommended purchase for fans of the film and a worthwhile rental to see if you get drawn into the hazy world that Pynchon/Anderson have crafted.
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