Like the Thomas Pynchon novel it's based on, this film remains infuriatingly evasive as its central mystery deepens. Also like Pynchon, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson is more interested in characters than plot, expertly orchestrating a lively cast in a series of raucous scenes. That these moments never quite add up to a coherent bigger story may feel unsatisfying, but the groovy 1970s vibe is infectious, and there's a lot of fun to be had in watching these actors play around with the rambling dialogue and nutty interaction.
It's set in 1970 Los Angeles, where private investigator Doc (Joaquin Phoenix) is a stoner who'd rather not work at all. Then he agrees to help his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston) find her missing property developer boyfriend Mickey (Eric Roberts). But this immediately puts him on a collision course with his long-time nemesis, Detective Bjornsen (James Brolin), a frozen-banana loving tough-guy cop known as Bigfoot. And the deeper Doc gets into the case, the more confusing it gets. Not only is the presumed-dead Coy (Owen Wilson) very much alive, but it's unclear whether a key clue about Golden Fang refers to a boat or a secret dental society. And suspiciously, Doc's DA friend Penny (Reese Witherspoon) always seems to be one step ahead of him on the case.
Anderson opens the film with a blinding flood of information and then simply never allows us to catch up, so like Doc we can't quite get a grip on what's actually going on. This effectively makes us feel as stoned as he is, bewildered by the way even the simplest revelations seem to contradict each other. But even as everything gets increasingly confusing, Anderson writes and directs scenes with a vivid intensity that's both hilariously entertaining and darkly involving. Each sequence carries a powerful punch, giving the superb cast plenty of quirky details to work with.
Continue reading: Inherent Vice Review
This jagged, meandering exploration of a Scientology-style movement is hauntingly mesmerising and packed with meaty performances. As he did in There Will Be Blood, writer-director Anderson is exploring how people control and influence each other, this time focussing on a twisted mentor-protege relationship that's strikingly well-played by Hoffman and Phoenix.
The story takes place just after the war, as seaman Freddie Quells (Phoenix) struggles to overcome his physical and psychological injuries and fit back into society. After drifting across America, he stows away on a boat captained by Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), who is known as the Master to followers of the Cause. He takes Freddie under his wing and coaches him to tap into his eternal soul by exploring who he was in past lives. So Freddie becomes part of the family with Dodd's strong-willed wife (Adams), doubtful son (Plemons) and more gung-ho daughter and son-in-law (Childers and Malek). And Freddie's stubbornness both annoys and challenges Dodd.
It's fascinating to watch these two men develop a tight connection while quietly jostling for power. The cycles of interaction make the film lurch in fits and starts as Freddie tries to elevate himself using Dodd's process, but continually finds another way all his own. In other words, both men are using each other to work out their own inner turmoil. While Hoffman gives a layered performance that bristles with quiet shadows and superficial bravado, Phoenix contorts his body and face into a man who has literally been crumpled up by his past. Meanwhile, the darkly intense Adams sneaks up and steals every scene she's in.
Continue reading: The Master Review
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