Cool! We're the best people. Now, for the worst...
The Master (2012) 48/100 - It's a well shot film with many scenes looking exquisite, but PTA is laughing at anyone who thinks this is a masterpiece. I believe he decided to conduct his own little experiment and the audience was the case subject. Could he dangle pretty baubles, scene after scene after scene, with a haunting score, yet no cohesive storyline but because it's from PTA, would the critics and the hipsters lap it up like mother's milk?
I've spent two days coming to grips with the fact that Paul Thomas Anderson isn't a director I care for. (Now I know how Antares feels when Tarantino releases a new one.) The seed was planted early into The Master and because of that, I was reluctant to take the ride here in the first place. I'm not saying he's not talented. I will always treasure Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood. Since then Anderson has been wasting his talents trying to find something deeper. He's trying to reinvent the wheel when i know he's capable of making a pretty great wheel.
His partner in crime, Joaquin Phoenix, has turned disconnected celebrity into an art. You can tell because this film has Owen Wilson, who has gone on record saying he'd like to get paid as much as possible to do as little as possible. Wilson is Basil Exposition compared to Phoenix's sleepy mouth. (Does Phoenix only play characters who mumble a lot, or is this a deliberate choice he makes every time? Will he ever try to play a character with diction?) Together Anderson and Phoenix nibble around the beautiful edges like two people who really don't care if this film has any effect on the viewer.
I hate the defense that the plot is not supposed to make sense. That the narrative incomprehensibility is part of the point, and not the point at all. Look, I watch a lot of Noir. I know the joy is in the characters and the atmosphere. For example, I don't give a rat's ass who ends up with the Maltese Falcon in the end. I'm glad Spade figures out who killed his partner, though I wasn't sure he would. There's a film where you can go on about the characters and the performances, but you can also follow Spade's drive every step of the way. The script here isn't clever in that way where a connection is made and you have the 'ah-ha' moment. It's more like a, "holy crap, I didn't think they were going to bother connecting that to anything." If the plot matters so little then why is there so much of it? Why is Doc hired by about a half-dozen people if we're not supposed to care about him solving any of them.
It's a story told poorly, so what do we get in return? Well, many say this is PTA's funniest film and there are moments where I thought that might happen. I really liked the character of Jade and her first scene surprised me in a couple of different ways. Also the scenes between Phoenix and Josh Brolin are pretty fun. Overall, watching Inherent Vice was much like watching Ocean's 12.
Ok, let's take this bit by bit. First bit! Antares' review of The Master, which I'm going to assume you quoted because you agree with it in reference to Inherent Vice. The main thrust of his segment up there are the words "no cohesive storyline," right? That's actually less of a problem in The Master than it is in Inherent Vice, though I had a bigger problem with the less-compelling-than-desirable plot in The Master than I did the meandering but sneakily straightforward plot in Inherent Vice. I've now forgotten what point I was trying to make with this so let's just move on.
It is hard for me to see Inherent Vice as PTA trying to reinvent the wheel when it isn't technically his wheel in the first place. This is his first mostly-straight adaptation, right? Any deeper meanings in Inherent Vice were, based on what I've read about it, already there in the source, and PTA's job seems to have been one of reduction rather than reinvention when it comes to the adapting, so I'm willing to give Pynchon some of the credit for the ideas about the loss of the dream of the 60s and the intermingling of counterculture and corporate/government agencies. Those elements are pretty clearly there in the movie and they are augmented by Doc's two major relationships with Shasta and Bigfoot. We'll get to Coy and his family later.
Seems a bit harsh to say that Anderson and Phoenix don't care if the movie has an effect on the audience. I've seen some reviews call the jokes in the movie too forced, a criticism I don't agree with, but if that's the case isn't it proof that they want the audience to at least laugh at the thing? Even with the aforementioned in this thread terrible sex scene the stuff with Shasta is genuinely sad, even the start of that scene really worked for me on that front. Like Inside Llewyn Davis, we start the movie after the main character has lost somebody very important to them, and the rest of the film should be viewed in that framework. Sure, there are hijinks in both films, but neither is less emotionally involving because of them. What I'm saying here is that if they didn't want me to get involved in the story or the characters, they failed tremendously.
And now, the meat of it. I knew you hated the idea that the plot doesn't have to matter when I said basically what you start that paragraph with, but I still think it is true. Even if the plot doesn't make sense (and I'll argue later that it does), why is that bad? You talk about who ends up with the Maltese Falcon and how that doesn't really matter when compared to Spade finding out who killed his partner. For Inherent Vice the character resolution parallel is reconnecting Coy with his family. I didn't think that would be such a triumphant moment but it really does work for me as a kind of happy case at the end of the world, or the world as Doc knows it. If I remember correctly, Coy and his wife were united by the free love ideas of the 60s and Coy basically ran away when he saw the consequences of their reckless behavior in his heroin baby. He returns when each of the three stops doing hard drugs and begins a new life with a credit card and everything. That's a definite shift in priorities and a shift away from the positives of one kind of thing (60s) to another (normal family life). And that's really the only positive thing that happens at the end. Bigfoot basically can't handle being a straight cop in a world so corrupted and twisted, and he can't handle Doc's free living so he goes kinda nuts and eats all the pot and ashes and shit. Doc, meanwhile, goes off into a hazy future. Is Shasta even really there in that last scene? Or is he riding around with his memory of her, something he'll never truly escape. Few of these character resolutions are as concrete as Spade's in The Maltese Falcon, but they do count. They do exist. The plot gets each of these characters to these points for very good reasons, and does so entertainingly.
As I said last night in chat, the plot actually isn't super hard to follow, at least once everything is said and done. Each scene serves a straightforward purpose of giving Doc information to act on, and most of that information is actually useful in uncovering a part of the (admittedly absurd but absurd for a good reason) scheme at the center of the film. There are a few red herrings as all mysteries have, of course. However, the actual A to B to C of it all is cohesive and coherent. The emotional arcs are equally easy to follow if you put a little effort into it.
At the end of it, I like Oceans 12, but it ain't got nothing on Inherent Vice. I am very happy that you wrote about it, even if you're wrong.