Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. USA, 2014. Ghoulardi Film Company, Warner Bros., IAC Films, RatPac-Dune Entertainment. Screenplay by Paul Thomas Anderson, based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon. inematography by Robert Elswit. Produced by Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Lupi, JoAnne Sellar. Music by Jonny Greenwood. Production Design by David Crank. Costume Design by Mark Bridges. Film Editing by Leslie Jones. Academy Awards 2014. Golden Globe Awards 2014.
Thomas Pynchon’s convoluted plotting is rendered cinematically by Paul Thomas Anderson in this mind-warping, often chic and frequently hilarious neo-noir. Joaquin Phoenix is excellent as a 1970s hippie private eye whose rattily coiffed, perpetually barefoot state are a misleading cover for sharp wits as an investigator. True to the classic nature of the genre, it begins with a woman walking into his office, in this case an ex-girlfriend who informs him that her married real-estate tycoon boyfriend (Eric Roberts) is the possible victim of a plot by his wife and her lover to have him locked up in a loony bin and make off with his cash. Phoenix is on the case, which then gets richer when Roberts actually does go missing, as does the girlfriend, and an associate of the mogul’s is murdered. Going up against a hardass homicide investigator (a terrific Josh Brolin), a sexy member of the D.A.’s office (Reese Witherspoon, also excellent) and an assortment of thugs and sexpots, Phoenix finds himself entangled in a plot that just keeps getting thicker until you do not know which end is up. The confusion is not really what keeps this from being up there with Anderson’s best work, though, for while it isn’t as cleanly complex and easy to follow as L.A. Confidential it does flesh out enough of the charisma of every single character to make you willing to wait until you can sort it all out, plus manages a terrific visual style (it was originally shot in 70 MM) that brings back the seventies in a warm and gorgeous way. The fail is that for all it demands in 145 easily watchable minutes, it builds to a resolution that includes very little payoff; it’s okay that you rarely know where you are in the story, but it’s impossible to know where the centre of it is even when it’s over, and what is suggested as the emotional crux is not all that rewarding. That said, it’s a cool, sassy and smart movie that will eventually achieve a richly deserving cult following, and its mammoth cast is spotless from top to bottom.