Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix)is a former U.S. seaman, suffering from some kind of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that leaves him unable to function in civil society, and sees him perpetually fleeing the situations he finds himself in. One such escape attempt sees him stow away on a party boat that is commandeered by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a visionary, philosophical leader, who takes a shine to Freddie and invites him to join their program, along with Lancaster’s wife Peggy (Amy Adams) and the rest of their family (Jesse Plemons, Ambyr Childers and Rami Malek). However, the program’s gruelling processing scheme may be too much for Freddie to take, and he must decide for what benefit is it all for, anyway?The Master sees, for me, Paul Thomas Anderson beginning a period that I hope is very short, and which so far could be referred to as his working-with-Joaquin period, which should give you some indication for my feelings on Inherent Vice. I’m not a fan of The Master. Or rather, I have no bloody idea what it actually is, all I know is that I didn’t particularly like it all that much. It begins with the character of Freddie, whilst still being a seaman and surrounded by his fellow seamen (I promise, I’ll stop soon), gyrating on a woman made of sand, before excusing himself to go masturbate into the sea. As character introductions go, that’s pretty much all you need to know about this guy, which is to say that I don’t want to spend any more time around him than is absolutely necessary. Alas, he is the focus of this movie, so we’re going to be seeing a great deal of him. Yay.Phoenix is an actor that I don’t particularly like. For starters I can’t say his name without sounding either demented or mildly racist, putting too much inflection on the “J” that has no business being at the start of that sound. I’m not a fan of the trend that is giving people random non-names, but I’d have much preferred it if he still called himself Leaf. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. No, I don’t really value Phoenix acting style, which seems to be very visual – here he spends the entire film attempting an impression of Popeye sucking on a particularly sharp lemon drop. Overall he isn’t bad, his performance just isn’t very appealing. He’s a little better in Inherent Vice by virtue of showing some unexpected affinity for comedy, but that’s a topic for another day.I think my main issue was his character, and my inability to like any aspect of him. Fortunately, there are other people in this film, and they are much more interesting. Philip Seymour Hoffman is something of an acting legend, as far as I am concerned. I may even declare him the greatest actor I’ve come across, which just makes me so very bitter that he was lost so early. Far too early. Fuck. Now I’m depressed. Anyway, his Lancaster Dodd is another wonderful Hoffman creation, who I felt put far more across than Phoenix despite being on screen for far less of the time, and giving a far more restrained performance. There is one scene wherein his character, who proclaims his methods have been known to have certain curing abilities, is in fact some kind of a fraudster who preys on easy targets and feeble minds. Now, I am a sceptic. I believe in very little, and am more likely to dismiss someone else’s beliefs than even listen to them (yes, I know, I’m a terrible person), but so immersive was Hoffman’s performance that I actually found myself on his side in this scene, and found myself willing him to verbally trounce the man accusing him. The fact that he called the guy “Pig fuck” was just icing on the cake.It seems every post I write on a PTA movie seems to mention that I tend to greatly appreciate certain scenes more than I do the film as a whole. Whilst that’s true to a lesser extent with The Master, there are still a few moments I took away. Late in the film, whilst staying at the house of a wealthy fan (Laura Dern!), Lancaster is approached by the police with a warrant for his arrest (to which he perfectly responds “Goodie”). Dodd goes quietly but unhappily, but Quell, who is not under arrest, requires four three men to attempt to restrain him, and a total of four to eventually escort him to the prison cell he earns through his outburst. These vastly different reactions continue in their neighbouring cells, with Dodd standing almost immobile, whilst Quell sets about destroying everything in his vicinity, despite his hands being tied behind his back. I think the entire purpose of the scene was to highlight just how different these two men are, and if so well then mission accomplished.It saddens me that Amy Adams, who I’d heard was almost the third leg to this film’s acting tripod, was instead criminally underused, regardless of how important her character may have been. Also, story-wise there was far too much that was left not just unexplained, but a complete mystery as to whether it’s relevant or not, or if in fact there’s anything relevant in this film. Over halfway through I wrote in my notes “Where is the plot going? What is the driving force? Why am I being shown this?” and various other questions throughout the rest of the film. Come the end, pretty much all of these questions remained relevant. I still don’t know what I saw, or why it was put on film. From discussing it with others I think that I just flat out didn’t get it – I’m still unsure how people can rate this film relatively highly, when as far as I’m concerned it’s a mess. If it weren’t for Hoffman’s performance and some interesting scenes I’d suggest flushing it entirely. As it is, I can’t recommend it, but if you want to watch it then go ahead.
Choose Life 5/10