Sunday, 1 February 2015

Alternate Best Actor 2014: Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice

Joaquin Phoenix did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Larry 'Doc' Sportello in Inherent Vice.

Inherent Vice is a mess of a film about a private eye investigating the disappearance of his former girlfriend and her current millionaire boyfriend. Calling a film a mess is usually a complaint, but not this time as I loved the beautiful mess this film had to offer.

This is Joaquin Phoenix's second collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson after The Master where he portrayed the shell shocked Freddie Quell. Well Doc Sportello's a bit of a departure from Freddie, although I guess you could say they both are in a bit of a daze, although Doc's daze is technically a bit more self-inflicted. This role is in general a bit more of a departure for Phoenix since not only is it a comedic role, although there certainly were elements of comedy in Her, but unlike his roles in that film, The Master and The Immigrant Doc's is a lot less traumatized. Not only that though Phoenix technically plays the straight man here, which in itself seems like a mind bending concept alone. I will admit that Doc is not exactly your usual straight man, after all he's played by Joaquin Phoenix for goodness sake, but I would still characterize him as a straight man. As the private detective who we follow through a most unusual, and particularly convoluted mystery, and even though Doc might not be "normal" he might as well be compared to some of the characters he comes across in his investigation.

Doc is a bit like J.J. Gittes, well they're both private detectives, and they both often wear hats. There is at least one major difference anyway and that is Doc seems to be under at least the influence of one drug at any given time. Phoenix's performance effectively represents this through his always at least somewhat glazed look, and hey you also get a particularly relaxed performance from the usually intense Joaquin Phoenix. Phoenix is appropriately laid back in this and from that offers a particularly interesting take on the investigator going from one witness to another in order to get to the bottom of the odd case he's involved with. Rather than being commanding and confrontational, Phoenix is enjoyably off-beat in playing Doc style as being a whole lot more low key. Phoenix actually does not even bother to sit up straight, usually making himself quite comfortable as he only partially watches those he's technically trying to find some sort of information. Even in writing his note book Doc is not exactly leaving the most important data for later.

Phoenix is terrific in his whole routine here as he does act like a straight man to the truly bizarre characters he comes across in his attempt to solve the case. Phoenix is consistently entertaining in his portrayal of Doc's confused manner as he tries to decipher what exactly it is that each person is saying to him exactly. Phoenix does some great work in partially representing the audience in likely their own futile attempt to try to figure out the plot, while always being firmly in Doc's personal style, but most importantly really is amplifying the other performances through Doc's interactions with them.  Whether it's a particular stare one piece of information that might provide some actual usefulness or some unease at one person's particularly off-putting testimony Phoenix always is interesting to watch. Phoenix actually has a particularly big challenge in that his performance needs to invigorate every bit of dialogue in the film, which there is a great deal of in this film, and Phoenix does letting the words sing in their own way even if they don't necessarily always make an absolute sense.

Phoenix's reactions are just great throughout, particularly love his quick scream when looking at a picture that horrifies him, before quickly returning to his drug addled reserve. Something rather interesting here is that Phoenix once again brings a strong physicality to his role here, just as he did in The Master, although intent is quite different. This time Phoenix proves himself surprisingly able as a physical comic actor here. There's just something particularly funny about the way he falls down when he gets hit, particularly that pratfall when one of the police officers purposefully bumps into him on the way the to the station. In fact there's something hilarious in just the way Phoenix slinks into like a ball as he awaits to be beaten down by Josh Brolin's Det. Christian F. "Bigfoot" Bjornsen. Phoenix is altogether pretty fascinating here in giving a very funny performance while doing it in a rather atypical style. He never needs seems to be trying to be funny here in the least, but he certainly is.

Of course this is not a wholly comical performance from Phoenix as Doc does have that personal attachment to the case which is finding his girlfriend. Phoenix is remarkable in showing Doc's investment as there are certain moments where he suggests a greater concern when her name, Shasta, does come up into conversation. Phoenix is outstanding in the scenes where he actually interacts with her, because there is something very intriguing about their relationship. They don't exactly speak on a normal wavelength as two lovers or necessarily even two normal people. The connection between the two is something to behold though as you do see the love between the two which is fitting, and probably wholly logical, in their minds which always are in a different wavelength anyways. Phoenix's performance here is brilliant as he seems like always such a perfect fit for the style of the film in terms of both fitting right in as well as making it's style really come to life. I suppose Phoenix's work here does not quite hit the heights of his performance in The Master, but it does not have to, this is great work of a whole different sort.


koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Very good performance, and just another notch on Phoenix's belt of great performances. By the way, have you decided on your thoughts on him in The Immigrant? Why so conflicted?

Psifonian said...

Masterful performance, one that I feel will be seen as unjustly snubbed in years to come (though Brolin will be the one that will have people scratching their heads in the future when it comes to missing nods).

GM said...

Louis: What's your ranking of PTA films?

Anonymous said...

@Louis: Did you like Katherine Waterson more this time or is she still a 3.5?
@kook160: What are your thoughts and ratings on Chastain in A Most Violent Year?

John Smith said...

Toughts on Brolin in the movie

luke higham said...

Fantastic Performance from Joaquin Phoenix, I'm really looking forward to Brolin's review as well.

Anonymous said...

What are your ratings and thoughts on Reese Witherspoon and Hong Chau?

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

@Anonymous: I'll just do the entries cast

Isaac - 5: Well, those Al Pacino comparisons were apt. Beyond brilliant take on that sort of character, may I add. He could have easily made Abel too sinister or aped off of similar characters, but he never goes there. Instead he gives a sterling performance of a genuinely good man who ends up somewhat compromising what he believes. You could argue he crossed the line, but what an interesting way he crossed it. I was honestly afraid they were going to make him into a Walter White figure, but thankfully they side-stepped that.

Chastain - 4.5 bordering on 5: My Supporting Actress win of the year (admittedly it's not very close). Brilliant counterpoint to Isaac. She's more outward, vicious, and arguably dangerous compared to her (mostly) pacifist husband. You could argue she was showboating in her "{big" scenes, but it worked to show how she's more in control of them than he is. One of the better modern takes on Lady Macbeth, if I say so. I do admit her accent is slightly off, but it didn't distract as much it could have.

Brooks - 3.5: Not much to do, but he's always a welcome presence. It might just be the 80's comb over wig, but he does totally disappear into the role. He's technically less Brooksian than he was in Drive.

Oyelowo - 3.5: Again, not much to do, and like Chastain his accent is off, but he brings the right gravity and ambition to his character.

Nivola - 3: Honestly, I wish there was more of him, and I'm usually not a fan. He has the right amount of charm and sleaze that I sort of wanted to see more interactions between him and Isaac.

Gabel - 2: The big weak link of the main cast, and by extension the film. Julian could have been a more emotionally devastating character, but Gabel overplays it at times. His last scene in particular was bad due to his mugging. Thank God Isaac was there to remedy it.

luke higham said...

Louis: Any new viewings over the past week.

Anonymous said...

Isaac and Chastain sound great. I'll definitely check it out.

Louis Morgan said...

Robert: I should say I'm more conflicted on my exact thoughts, I definitely liked his performance though.


1. The Master
2. Magnolia
3. Boogie Nights
4. Inherent Vice
5. There Will Be Blood
6. Hard Eight
7. Punch-Drunk Love

Like to love them all.


Definitely exactly the same, although I'd say I appreciated the rest of the cast all the more. Waterston though felt excessively mannered in her first scene, as though she wanted to make this big impact. I did feel she made up for it in later appearances though.


Witherspoon - 3.5(Almost everybody here actually adds something and Witherspoon is no exception in doing the, more proper, source of information standard to a detective story, but done in a far more off-beat fashion. She's wholly enjoyable, particularly the "Are You?" exchange with Phoenix)

Chau - 4(Technically the cliche of the cheery Asian prostitute, but again with a bit of weird twist to it. She's delightful though with her kinda broad, but not too broad, delivery as though her character knows she's fulfilling the role of exotic informant)


I have seen some films, but hold that thought for the moment.

RUTH JONES said...

Inherent Vice is really a wonderful film. I like this movie a lot and I have watch this movie three times with my friends. I am also a big fan of his acting and I love to watch his movies like Oliver Stone's, U Turn and more. Do you know anything about joaquin phoenix scar on his lip?