A Cloud Of Smoke
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, Jena Malone, Eric Roberts, Serena Scott Thomas, Michael K. Williams, Christopher Allen Nelson and Peter McRobbie.
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Scriptwriter: Paul Thomas Anderson and adapted from the Thomas Pynchon novel
Cinematographer: Robert Elswit
Composer: Jonny Greenwood
IAC Films/Warner Brothers
Rating: R (an adult film with profanity, sexual scenes and drug use)
Running Length: 148 Minutes
“Inherent Vice” is not an easy film to follow. The settings from the Thomas Pynchon novel, are areas around Los Angeles in the early 1970’s. There is a narrator who recites passages from Pynchon's book as the story progresses. Marijuana is in wide use and the camera work shows how the world would appear to someone who isn't quite clear in the mind. Speech patterns can be slow, recognition is slow, and the world is a happy place until someone knocks you out. Joaquin Phoenix plays “Doc,” a P. I. who is hired by Shasta, an ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston and daughter of actor Sam Waterston) to find her now-boyfriend, Mickey (Eric Roberts) who is missing. Thus begins the odyssey through a hazy world in which nothing is quite as it should be.
The story begins with Doc meeting a former girlfriend, Shasta, who has been dating a real estate man, Mickey, and now Mickey is missing. Shasta suspects Mickey’s wife (Serena Scott Thomas) of having something to do with this. Will Doc help? Of course, and in the process, Doc gets beat up, meets an old police friend, Bigfoot (Josh Brolin) who fixates on sex and thinks everyone has an ulterior motive. Doc is framed for a murder and his attorney (Benicio del Toro) has a different idea about getting him out of jail. Then there, is another missing person, Coy (Owen Wilson) a saxophone player and his wife, Hope (Jena Malone) wants him found. This goes round and round, but eventually, Doc figures things out (maybe he could let the audience in on this, too) and finds corruption everywhere. Surprise.
What makes the film watchable are the inpidual characters and their eccentricities. Each has a moment to make their story and some are rare, indeed. Benicio del Toro comes on the screen and you think, “Is it possible?” and there is quite a resemblance to a late star there. Or Josh Brolin and his sex obsession in small details as he is in a scene, but it is Martin Short as the eccentric dentist, Dr. Blatnoyd, who steals his scenes. Short could have come from the cast of director Wes Anderson’s “Grand Budapest Hotel,“ also with some over-the-top humor. The setting of a 1970’s Los Angeles is well done, from clothes to cars, aided by the soundtrack of Jonny Greenwood.
Joaquin Phoenix, with much hair on his face, purposely sleep-walks through part of the film, allowing things to happen to him. This sets up the various scenes---almost like chapters---of the story of searching for the lost amid a cloud of smoke. His facial expressions and body language speak a great deal, as they do with Josh Brolin as the tough “Bigfoot.” Brolin does his character as a lit dynamite stick ready to blow up, especially when someone mentions the word “hippie.” The women? Unfortunately, even with Reese Witherspoon in the cast, they are mainly eye candy and clothing is optional.
I almost needed a road map to begin the film and follow the characters, not having read Pynchon’s novel. About 1/3 of the way though, there is a pattern and from then on, enjoy the ride through a recreation of 1970’s Los Angeles. The sun always shines, people are carefree and if you are having a bad moment, there are drugs nearby. By the way, the term “inherent vice” is an insurance term meaning to insure something that could break in the future.
Copyright 2015 Marie Asner
For more film reviews with Joaquin Phoenix or Josh Brolin, see the following: