An unusual Western with a pretty usual setup: two killers are sent after a guy who a fourth guy is tracking, only this time all the guys get to talkin’ all philosophical-like, and decide to team up. One of the Brothers (J. Phoenix) is kinda the dumb drunk one, and doesn’t seem completely on board with quitting the killing business to join the others and start a utopian society in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, but as time goes by, he upgrades his ambitions from killing the target to replacing his boss (Rutger Hauer). Phoenix also gets overzealous with the gold-detection chemical which the gentle escaped commie scientist (Riz Ahmed) has invented, leading to the loss of his hand and the death of the scientist and his tracker-become-bestie Jake Gyllenhaal. His brother (JC Reilly) is the more thoughtful one, is a good mediator between the others and also an excellent killer. Between the cast (including Rebecca Root as a local town/crime boss who hunters the Sisters) and the movie’s title and character names (Riz plays “Hermann Kermit Warm”), the movie seems like a comedy, but doesn’t have many laughs, and is gradually revealed to be its own weird thing. Surprising change from the over-serious immigrant crime dramas A Prophet and Dheepan. The actors’ faces aren’t usually visible, and I can’t tell if it’s a stylistic choice or Audiard not knowing how to light people wearing cowboy hats. Nice to see, briefly, Carol Kane as Mother Sisters, not made up to look like a crazy person for once.

Ah shit, this is one of those movies I had to write up twenty seconds after watching because once I get outside its particular headspace it is impossible to remember – and it’s been a month. Anyway, this sounds like an action-grime classic: a hammer-wielding hitman on the edge of sanity is sent to rescue a senator’s daughter. Joaquin Phoenix and the director and editor and the incredible sound design keep things from becoming as generic as that sounds.

Phoenix is given a job by his boss (Major Rawls from The Wire), pops some pills, grabs a hammer and rescues the girl. She’s taken back from him by cops (!), then his contacts and his mom are killed, and he has a touching moment with a dying rival hitman before rescuing her again from the governor, who was part of the pedophile ring she’d been handed into in the first place. I think that’s what happened, but the movie is all nerves and makes you feel crazy for watching it, so I can’t be sure. I’m happy to see Ramsay redeemed after We Need To Talk About Kevin.

Much more interesting visually than it looked from trailers and posters, which were all Joaquin looking into the distance while talking to Siri, sometimes smiling. More interesting emotionally too. Phoenix’s beloved operating system grows and learns at an accelerated rate, like if Short Circuit’s Johnny Five had internet access, finally admits to having simultaneous romantic relationships with hundreds of humans, and soon afterward leaves all the lonely humans alone with each other to further explore her own consciousness. It’s kinda beautiful and terrifying in a Terminator Skynet sense.

The somewhat-happy ending leaves Phoenix with Amy Adams, a longtime friend who bonded with her own OS while divorcing her husband. Also featured: Rooney Mara (Zuckerberg’s ex in Social Network) as the wife divorcing Phoenix, Olivia Wilde as a blind date whom Phoenix is too damaged to pursue, Portia Doubleday as a Siri sex surrogate, Chris Pratt as a coworker, and the very human voice of Scarlett Johansson. Won a million awards, including a screenplay oscar.

It feels, accurately, like an adaptation of a long, wordy book, in that it’s a long, wordy movie that crams in characters and investigations and descriptions and dialogues and backstories through its runtime, leaving little breathing room or sense that it’s all adding up to something. And it feels like one of those sprawling PT Anderson ensemble dramas, in that it’s packed to the gills with great actors, some of them never better than here. And it’s faithful to the madcap trailer, in that it contains those lines and comic scenes. And it’s similar to Big Lebowski, in that they’re both quizzically-plotted red-herring comedies featuring addled detectives. But it’s like none of these things, the visuals closer to Anderson’s The Master than I was prepared for, the mood less comic and hopeful. Some of the critic reactions I looked up mention the dark, disillusioned second half of Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, a good point of reference. It’s being called the first Pynchon adaptation, but only because nobody (myself included) saw the semi-official Gravity’s Rainbow movies Impolex and Prufstand VII. Random movie references, presumably from the book: a company called Vorhees Kruger, a street called Gummo Marx Way.

This is Joaquin Phoenix’s show, but his cop frenemy Josh Brolin keeps trying to kick his ass and steal it. Also great: Jena Malone as an ex-junkie looking for her husband, Katherine Waterston as Doc’s ex-and-future girlfriend with questionable allegiances, and Martin Short as a depraved dentist. Plus: Martin Donovan, Omar, Eric Roberts, Jonah from Veep, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro, Maya Rudolph, Hong Chau and Joanna Newsom.

D. Ehrlich:

Anderson has imbued [Joanna Newsom] with a spectral dimension – every conversation she has with Doc sheds light on his isolation, but each of her appearances ends with a cut or camera move that suggests that she was never there, that she isn’t an antidote to his loneliness so much as its most lucid projection.

MZ Seitz, who is “about 90 percent certain [Newsom] is not a figment of anyone’s imagination.”:

Phrases like “peak of his powers” seem contrary to the spirit of the thing. Vice impresses by seeming uninterested in impressing us. Anderson shoots moments as plainly as possible, staging whole scenes in unobtrusive long takes or tight closeups, letting faces, voices and subtle lighting touches do work that fifteen years ago he might’ve tried to accomplish with a virtuoso tracking shot that ended with the camera tilting or whirling or diving into a swimming pool.

G. Kenny:

The movie walks a very particular high wire, soaking in a series of madcap-surreal hijinks in an ambling, agreeable fashion to such an extent that even viewers resistant to demanding “what’s the point” might think “what’s the point.”

D. Edelstein:

It’s actually less coherent than Pynchon, no small feat. It’s not shallow, though. Underneath the surface is a vision of the counterculture fading into the past, at the mercy of the police state and the encroachment of capitalism. But I’m not sure the whole thing jells.

Seitz again:

Something in the way Phoenix regards Brolin … suggest an addled yet fathomless empathy. They get each other. In its way, the relationship between the stoner “detective” who pretends to be a master crime fighter and the meathead cop who sometimes moonlights as an extra on Dragnet is the film’s real great love story, an accidental metaphor for the liberal/conservative, dungarees/suits, blue state/red state divide that’s defined U.S. politics since the Civil War.

A. O’Hehir:

Like Anderson’s other films (and like Pynchon’s other books), Inherent Vice is a quest to find what can’t be found: That moment, somewhere in the past, when the entire American project went off the rails, when the optimism and idealism – of 1783, or 1948, or 1967 – became polluted by darker impulses. As Pynchon’s title suggests, the quest is futile because the American flaw, or the flaw in human nature, was baked in from the beginning.

Long-awaited follow-up to There Will Be Blood has a similar episodic construction – power-hungry man meets someone equally strong-willed but very different, feels he needs to conquer the other man in order to progress. This one doesn’t come together as well, possibly because Philip Seymour Hoffman’s emerging religion is supposed to be similar to Scientology but with hardly any concrete details – the movie dances around its own (and its characters’) intentions.

Joaquin Phoenix is a burn-out ex-navy drifter singularly talented at making harsh alcoholic concoctions from whatever chemicals are around. He and Hoffman are the stars here – the Sunday and Plainview of this movie – and the other actors are almost incidental. Hoffman has a devoted wife (The Muppets star Amy Adams) and a frighteningly lookalike son (Jesse Plemons). Laura Dern has a small role as the family’s host, and later, the only believer to question Hoffman’s shifting rules (drawing rage instead of a reasoned explanation).

The movie is long and sprawling, and has plenty of uniquely wonderful shots. It seems disappointing compared to its predecessor – a movie less explicitly about religion which comes across as more spiritual and insightful.

Slant:

The Master drifts for long expanses, like the wanderer at the heart of the film, running on only the fumes of drama and action… [Phoenix] seems perpetually out of synch with dynamics of the group to which he belongs, and his apparent disinterest in the details of the religion he embraces is probably the best case for the film’s own detachment from the same—a line of reasoning one can accept abstractly without deeming it a virtue.