Paul Thomas Anderson's name has become synonymous with "weighty character study" throughout his career, particularly in the late 2000s onward; There Will Be Blood saw him delve deep into the tumultuous life and times of rapacious oilman Daniel Plainview, while his 2012 follow-up The Master split its emphasis between impressionable lost soul Freddie Quell and magnetic cult leader Lancaster Dodd. Both films tower with gravity and purpose, taking on grand thematic scopes despite their otherwise intimate focal points. Neither is to be taken lightly.
So Anderson's latest, an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's psychedelic noir trip Inherent Vice, marks a significant change of pace for the filmmaker. Whereas his recent works bear more dramatic, serious countenances, Inherent Vice plays looser and comes prepackaged with an electrically off kilter vibe of paranoia; the story takes Anderson back to the 1970s for the first time since 1999's Boogie Nights, where private investigator and career pothead Larry "Doc" Sportello tries to suss out truth amidst a gnarly tangle of inexplicable disappearances and drug fueled conspiracies.
Quite the tonal shift, that, but Anderson is an adaptable filmmaker capable of working in whatever mode he so chooses, and nailing period details; for proof of this gift beyond The Master and Boogie Nights, look no further than the first official Inherent Vice image, seen below. Coming courtesy of the folks at EW, the snapshot keeps things minimal, showcasing a simple, uncomfortably tense moment of conversation between Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) and LAPD detective Christian "Bigfoot" Bjornsen (Josh Brolin).
Sportello, of course, is an free wheeling hippie while Bjornsen is a lawman of questionable ethics with a history of taking confessions at the business end of a police baton; he's also disdainful of beatniks and flower children as a general rule, so one can only imagine that he's not exactly trading pleasantries with his counter cultural foil here.
Brolin's profile makes him immediately distinct beneath the precise cut of his flattop, but you may need to take a moment or two to recognize Phoenix. No longer sporting his geekstache from Her, or the perpetual lip curl from The Master, he's now rocking highly fashionable mutton chops and an unkempt 'do; coupled with the denim jacket, Phoenix is every bit the spitting image of Doc, striking a far more relaxed contrast to Bigfoot's buttoned up style. Pretty much the only thing Brolin's missing here is a certain frozen treat that serves as the character's trademark.
EW also had a chance to catch up with Brolin (as well as newcomer Katherine Waterston, playing Doc's "ex old lady" Shasta Fay Hepworth), who for the second time praised the virtue's of Anderson's flexible approach to filmmaking. As Brolin put it to the magazine:
“With this [film], there was a lack of pretense—a really strange lack of pretense. When something isn’t working, you can say, ‘This feels like a turd. Let’s cut the middle three pages. I’ll try to improvise and provide a bridge. How about some pancakes?’”
Waterston, meanwhile, described Anderson's process as "thrilling," stating that, "The set felt really vital. Like you are going into a question together.” Seems like heading into production with a rough outline for how each day could go has served Anderson and his sizable cast well from a creative perspective, though maybe the environment of back and forth they've cultivated together will lead to audience and critic responses as divisive as those received by The Master.
The film premieres at the New York Film Festival in about a month and a half (and opens in theaters in December, just in time to become awards season's most unique offering), so expect reactions to start trickling in shortly.
Inherent Vice debuts on December 12th, 2014.