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‘Inherent Vice’ (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014)

PT Anderson’s new movie isn’t out until the New Year so the usual flood of interviews, articles and TV ads have yet to move it onto my radar. I’ve read Thomas Pynchon’s novel, which I didn’t really click with, but the premature arrival of this adaptation courtesy of a surprise last-minute screening shifts it amongst 2014 concerns.

Anderson’s stage intro was predictably met by ecstatic applause, however for all the rapturous response, his Inherent Vice will likely have divided a room still acclimatising themselves to the esoteric gear shift taken with 2012’s The Master. Those expecting a Scorsese-light 70s burner a la Boogie Nights might have been disappointed, those amenable to the ongoing evolution of his free flowing style were frequently in hysterics, rolling with what is an often hilarious, strangely sweet natured and basically structureless picture that stumbles, drug-addled through its California beach setting toward the finish line. Pynchon’s novel took a similar approach, but without the opportunity to fall back on the rhythms of actor chemistry and visual comedy it struggled to maintain my interest as it ambled place to place. What felt on the page like a not entirely comfortable blend of detective potboiler and stoner romp has less of an identity crisis when filtered through the Anderson sensibility. Still less accessible than a There will be Blood, but very much assured of its identity and offering pleasures to those who acquiesce to the humour of PTA.

My big fear (nothing to do with awards, this is sooooooo not an Oscar film) is that the irreverence and throwaway built-for-cult-love design of the thing prevent proper appreciation of how insanely great Joaquin Phoenix is. He’s in every scene, all 2.5 hours of them, and it’s another full-bodied, beautifully inclusive performance. Beyond bonkers costume and hair design, Phoenix is hitting strikes each minute, balancing the broader slapstick moments with the almost imperceptible slurring, mumbling and stumbling that always feels organic to the character and never the affected tic of an actor at work. In a world without Philip Seymour Hoffman (surely Kinski to PTA Herzog?), Phoenix is a more than capable substitute-muse for mid-era Anderson.

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