Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Inherent Vice Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
When private eye Doc Sportello’s ex-old lady suddenly out of nowhere shows up with a story about her current billionaire land developer boyfriend whom she just happens to be in love with, and a plot by his wife and her boyfriend to kidnap that billionaire and throw him in a loony bin…well, easy for her to say. It’s the tail end of the psychedelic `60s and paranoia is running the day and Doc knows that “love” is another of those words going around at the moment, like “trip” or “groovy,” that’s being way too overused—except this one usually leads to trouble. With a cast of characters that includes surfers, hustlers, dopers and rockers, a murderous loan shark, LAPD Detectives, a tenor sax player working undercover, and a mysterious entity known as The Golden Fang, which may only be a tax dodge set up by some dentists...part surf noir, part psychedelic romp—all Thomas Pynchon.
Film (2 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Inherent Vice is a muddled mess with a ton of great performances that seem to have been pulled from different movies. This movie is a variation of Alice in Wonderland where Larry "Doc" Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) takes Alice place in an even weirder wonderland. Doc is drugged out doctor who also dabbles as a private investigator. He's a mix of  "The Dude" from The Big Lebowski and Inspector Clouseau, only he's more motivated by a desire to help people than to find a rug. He's a terrible investigator, as he stumbles and fumbles his way through clues, but he still manages to keep moving forward despite his shortcomings.

The year is 1970 and director Paul Thomas Anderson captures the look and feel of the decade well. Drugs are plentiful and popular, the fashions of the day are terrible. and everybody looks strung out. When the movie begins, Doc is in the middle of his usual routine of smoking pot when his ex girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston) visits him to ask for his help. Her current lover is Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), a wealthy real estate developer whose wife is trying to have him kidnapped and committed to an insane asylum.

Doc gets a second request at his office the following day when a man named Tariq (Michael K. Williams) asks him to find his friend Glen Charlock (the only Nazi that he likes) so he can get the money that he is owed. It's also revealed that Glen is also a bodyguard to Wolfmann, so Doc visits the real estate property owned by Wolfmann to see if he can learn more. The only thing he finds there is a brothel/massage parlor before he's knocked out by someone with a bat.

Doc wakes up next to the dead body of Glen, surrounded by the police led by Detective Christian "Bigfoot" Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), who shares some history with Doc. Lucky for Doc, his friend and maritime lawyer friend Sauncho (Benicio del Toro) gets him released from police custody, which frees Doc up to pursue his third case, a missing musician named Coy (Owen Wilson) who has been declared dead, but his wife Hope (Jena Malone) doesn't believe it. Coy finds Doc and lets him know that he's a police informant and that he's trapped in his position despite his desire to return to his wife and child.

There's a ton more plot threads that include cults, drug fueled dentists (personified by the fun Martin Short), a mysterious organization called The Golden Fang, duplicitous District Attorneys, loan sharks, and more. This would have worked a lot better as a ten episode event miniseries on HBO or Showtime than as a movie. As it is, it feels far too crammed and too long as the plot meanders in just as hazy manner as Doc himself. Anderson has stated in interviews that he wanted to capture the humor and the visuals of films like Airplane, but I didn't see much of an influence in the movie. There were some funny parts in the movie, but not as much as I'd hoped for.

The main selling point of this movie are the performances which are all great. Phoenix, Brolin, Waterston, and Short are especially good, and it was nice to see a Walk the Line reunion between Phoenix and Witherspoon. It seems that Inherent Vice tries to tackle too many genres at the same time, and doesn't really succeed with any of them. There's some film noir, some comedy, some drama, some social commentary, but none of it really coalesces as a whole. I just wish that the film lived up to the potential that this cast offered.
Video (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
This 1080p presentation offers a stunning natural look that really works beautifully and is a testament to cinematographer Robert Elswit's talent behind the camera. Colors are accurate, flesh tones look natural and lifelike, and the black levels are as dark as they should be. There are some halos that pop up here and there, but overall this is an excellent transfer.
Audio (4 out of 5 stars)
Inherent Vice's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is also very good. Dialogue is clear and clean sounding and the hypnotic score by Jonny Greenwood is evocative and never drowned out by the effects. Directional effects are rare but handled well, with accuracy and some smooth cross channel pans when needed. 
Extras (1 out of 5 stars)
I was really disappointed in these extras which are so pointless that they might as well not have even been added. There's no commentary, no behind the scenes look, no making of documentary, but there's plenty of trailers included.
  • Los Paranoias - A two minute promo for the movie narrated by Shasta (Katherine Waterston). 
  • Shasta Fay - If you want some more thoughts from Shasta, here's another one minute promo. 
  • The Golden Fang - Another short trailer. 
  • Everything in this Dream - At six minutes long, this is the longest extra included and it's a deleted/alternate sequence.
Summary (3 out of 5 stars)
Inherent Vice didn't meet my high expectations as a movie, but the cast did as they were all uniformly great in their roles. This movie needed to be more focused or made into a miniseries to accommodate everything that it tried to cram into this one movie. The Blu-ray offers some excellent video and audio quality, but the extras are extremely disappointing. If you are fan of these actors, I would recommend that you see the film, but this film could have been so much more which is really frustrating.
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