Inherent Vice (2014)

(Video on Demand, April 2015)  “Chinatown meets The Big Lebowski” is an imperfect and unfair way of describing Inherent Vice, but it’s better than most.  As a thriller set in the drug-addled subcultures of 1970s Los Angeles, featuring a protagonist not overly concerned with the trappings of the Private Investigator lifestyle, this is an investigation that doesn’t necessarily go to expected places, each elliptical scene not entirely connected to the previous one.  It can be heartbreaking, hilarious, confusing and fascinating in rapid succession, floating above its own plot in a haze of altered perceptions.  If, from this summary, you’re getting the idea that this is a challenging film that doesn’t really want to be seen conventionally, you’re right.  But it is, after all, a Paul T. Anderson film, and so it’s best approached as an experience than a story.  Fortunately, there are a few fantastic moments: Martin Short has a hilarious small role as a drugged-up dentist, there is a raw long single-shot love scene that’s a thing of wonder, and the recreation of 1970s Los Angeles is credible.  But the film does annoy as much as it rewards: there are more than a few lengths, the scenes aren’t necessarily accessible, the plot gets overly complex (the way it flouts genre conventions doesn’t help) and the use of a few actors rings falsely at time (Owen Wilson in a dramatic role, as unfair as it sounds, is a bit of a stretch)  Inherent Vice may not be to everyone’s liking, but there are enough great moments here and there to warrant a viewing even for those who may not be entirely enthusiastic about Anderson’s films.

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