Yep, as one reviewer said, Paul Thomas Anderson’s film of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice is a “zany tragicomic odyssey that calls out for a repeat viewing” and so it appears. The reviews are, for the most part, positive.
Like any Pynchon novel, the film is weird and murky and the central mystery remains unresolved at the film’s conclusion. If it did resolve, it certainly wouldn’t be faithful to the book. Many of the critics note that Inherent Vice will reward repeat viewings, that there’s simply too much to taken in the first time ’round. Sound familiar?
I, for one, am green with envy for those who were able to see the initial screenings. I can’t wait to see this film!
Here’s an overview of Inherent Vice‘s reviews after the initial screenings at the New York Film Festival in early October 2014.
Vulture (David Edelstein):
The film is a gorgeous stoner art object, at once groovy and glacial. It’s exceptionally faithful to the book, which is Pynchon’s contribution to the L.A. stoner private-eye genre, the highest (so to speak) achievements of which are (and remain) Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye and the Coens’ The Big Lebowski. One thing they have in common is that their narratives unravel as they go along, and this one isn’t too raveled to begin with. […]
Inherent Vice can use that passion. Like Pynchon’s novel, it’s a little insular, too cool for school. It’s drugged camp. Some of the plot points get lost in that ether — it’s actually less coherent than Pynchon, no small feat. It’s not shallow, though. Underneath the surface is a vision of the counterculture fading into the past, at the mercy of the police state and the encroachment of capitalism.
Los Angeles Times (Steven Zeitchik):
Shot on 35MM and featuring a score that similarly evokes a bygone era of filmmaking, “Inherent Vice” is a shaggy dog story of the most scruffy kind. There is a mystery here, but how it’s resolved in fact even what’s happening as it moves toward that resolution is mostly beside the point; the comedy and character set pieces are the thing. […]
[I]f it has scenes that are meant to be watched multiple times so you can pick up on everything that’s happening in them, that’s by design too. It has, in other words, the markings of a cult hit.
Salon.com (Andrew O’Hehir):
My initial feeling, after one viewing at a sardine-packed Saturday morning screening at the New York Film Festival (and I’m reserving the right to take all of this back) is that “Inherent Vice” has moments of greatness, and maybe even profound currents of greatness, including yet another tremendous performance from Joaquin Phoenix that should win major awards but won’t. But it’s also an incredibly uneven patchwork job that may wind up in the category of Interesting Failure.
Marvelously photographed by Robert Elswit in a muzzy, sunlit L.A. haze, with a customarily lovely Jonny Greenwood soundtrack, “Inherent Vice” is crowded with delights, and maybe overcrowded.
ArtInfo UK (Craig Hubert):
What we saw was something I’m not sure anybody expected. “Inherent Vice” is dense, mature, and seriously loopy. […]
What’s certain — and what might be the only certain thing initially apparent about “Inherent Vice” — is that this is the most unique and fascinating film made by an American director in recent memory. Many people will leave the theater confused but intrigued, and that’s part of its thrill — a film that warrants repeating viewings, each time providing a new adventure in seeing what pops out of the smoke.
Business Insider (Brett Arnold):
What makes the film so unique is how all these different elements combine to form something that’s greater than the sum of its parts. It has many functions; it’s an homage to old-school film noir/neo-noir, a goofy stoner comedy, and a compelling mediation on America in the late ’60s/early ’70s. On paper, it sounds like a total trainwreck, but in the hands of one of the greatest living filmmakers, it’s actually one of the best movies of the year.
IndieWire (Anne Thompson):
Anderson had long wanted to adapt Pynchon &151; this marks the first movie to do so. Is it successful? That depends on what you demand from an L.A. detective mystery. This movie has already inspired critics to go to town with their takes on Pynchon, PTA and California noir. I look forward to reading those reviews–they’re bound to be the best since the enigmatic Terrence Malick film “The Tree of Life.” That does not mean that “Inherent Vice” will satisfy a wide swath of moviegoers–even smart ones–although it will be a must-see for any self-respecting cinephile.
Vanity Fair (Richard Lawson):
To me, Inherent Vice is a little too zonked, meandering and overly long, an ultimately pointless story told by a stoned person. I realize that’s kind of the point, but it makes for eye-itching viewing, despite all of Anderson’s typically stunning camera work and nifty staging. Though it features fine performances from actors like Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, and, briefly, Martin Short, the film’s women get short shrift. Mostly they are stringy-haired beach pixies, or cool hippie chicks, or sprightly sex workers, who act as winking-cool window dressing until their body parts present some narrative function. At least Jena Malone makes a funny, sad impression in her one scene as a recovering heroin addict, while Waterston is often captivating in her haunted, dazed murmur. (Speaking of dazed murmurs, otherworldly indie harpist-singer Joanna Newsom provides some dreamy voice over narration.) This is an intriguingly cast film, as all Paul Thomas Anderson films are. I just wish he’d given some of his actors more to do.
Time Magazine (Richard Corliss):
For the rest of this 2-hr. 28-min. jape, you’re advised to go with the flow. Never quite transcending the sum of its agreeably disparate parts, IV is less groovy than gnarled and goofy, but in a studied way. Call it an acquired taste with a kinky savor.
The Telegraph (Robbie Collin):
Even in the moment of watching it, Inherent Vice, feels like a half-remembered dream. The dazzling new film from Paul Thomas Anderson, a mostly faithful adaptation of a recent Thomas Pynchon novel, plays out in the dying days of free love, at the precise moment the free-nothing mindset of the Nixon era is taking root. […]
The result is a shaggy dog story so thick and matted, you hardly know what to believe from one scene to the next – although the entire film seems to exist in a glowing, heightened place, somewhere far out beyond belief. Anderson has ditched the brooding composure of There Will Be Blood and The Master for close-up camera angles and hot, grainy colours that breathe Doc’s befuddlement straight into your lungs and brain.
BBC (Owen Gleiberman):
Inherent Vice is the first authorised adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel. But the book, published in 2009, isn’t one of Pynchon’s down-the-rabbit-hole surrealist jeremiads, the kind that can leave you wishing that James Joyce had never been born. It’s closer to an Elmore Leonard novel on bad acid. The basic story goes right back to Chandler and Hammett, with Los Angeles treated as a maze of perversity: our hero bounces from one flamboyantly odd character to the next, and each encounter provides another small piece of the puzzle, but what they really add up to is a guided tour of flaky LA decadence.