Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice (2014)

I finally found this on bootleg DVD, which is the main way people watch movies in Morocco. I know it's not considered a good idea to compare movies to the books they're based on, but in the case, it's a bit hard to avoid. The thing is, I think there might be an insoluble problem here. Because at two and a half hours, Inherent Vice already feels too long—and yet, there is a lot of material merrily excised from the movie. Lots of scenes are missing or severely abridged, a lot of characters have been cut, and those characters that remain generally make a lot less of an impression than they do in the book. Said book isn't the most coherent of narratives, and yes, that's part of the charm, but you can't just increase the incoherence and proportionally increase the charm, which is what the movie, however consciously, appears to be attempting. I feel as though I would have been seriously lost if I hadn't already been familiar with the book, which is kind of a problem, innit? A movie adaptation of a book needs to stand on its own.

Beyond that, while the movie sorta kinda tries to capture the gaudy, neon feel of the book, it...doesn't really do it very well. With the writing itself gone and basically all the pop culture references, real and imagined, gone, there's not much left. Look, obviously, there are areas where a movie of a book is at an inherent disadvantage compared to its source material. That's why it's important for a movie to make an effort to stand on its own, to show new dimensions of the story. But with Inherent Vice, my dominant impression is that I was just getting a very straight rendering of the story, only ruthlessly abridged, with most of the color drained out as a result. It's actually surprising how restrained the whole affair is; Anderson didn't, for instance, even try to adapt any of Pynchon's musical numbers—which would've been difficult to do well, no doubt, but come on. If a job's worth doing, you know.

By way of analogy, here is the opening of The Picture of Dorian Gray:

The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.

Pretty good, right? Evocative stuff. Whereas HERE is the opening of The Picture of Dorian Gray in the abridged-for-ESL-students version available where I work:

Through the open windows of the room came the rich scent of summer flowers.

HMMM. Is it unfair to suggest that the abridged version is to the original as the movie of Inherent Vice is to the book? Yeah, undoubtedly. But for crying out loud, it's not THAT unfair.

The casting is good; I had sort of ambivalent feelings about Joaquin Phoenix after The Master, but he makes a fine Doc Sportello. Best-in-show honors, however, have to go to Josh Brolin as Sportello's square-jawed establishment foil, Bigfoot Bjornsen. I enjoyed watching him. Honestly, though, this goes back to the above-noted problems: a lotta big-name actors are wasted in malnourished roles. I dunno; maybe if this had been a mini-series, and if it had been a little more adventurous, it really would've crackled. As it stands, it just seems pointless.


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