HOLLYWOOD – You'd never guess it from the reviews, but after Paul Thomas Anderson's “Inherent Vice” screened at the New York Film Festival last month, the word on the street wasn't great.
The iconic filmmaker's adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's novel earned immediate respect, but numerous industry attendees spread the word it wasn't Academy friendly and potentially not commercial enough to really be a player for Warner Bros. It even prompted questions on whether the reaction to the uniquely Los Angeles tale would have been better suited for a hometown debut. Following “Vice's” Southern California unveiling at the 2014 AFI Film Fest Saturday night, the answer to that question is still up for debate, but one thing's for sure: it's time to start the “don't forget Josh Brolin in the Best Supporting Actor race” campaign. Yes, a “reminder” campaign usually occurs after a film has at least hit limited release, but with “Vice” not arriving in New York, Toronto and Los Angeles until Dec. 1,2 there might be no time like the present.
Set in 1970s LA, “Vice” finds Brolin playing Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen, an LAPD detective who passive aggressively assists the film's hero, private investigator Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), with a number of seemingly unrelated cases that actually are all somehow related to each other. More importantly, Bigfoot is at a crossroads. He can't stand Doc, but that “little hippie” may be his only way to make some personal changes he can't make from his lawful position. Oh, and he ain't thrilled that his extra work on TV shows like “Adam 12” is drying up either. In a movie full of memorable performances, Bigfoot is simply the character audiences will remember the most.
What's so great about Brolin's performance is this is really the first time the Brolin the media have spoken to for almost a decade has gotten a chance to come out and play. The hilarious, charismatic guy who will win you over when he makes a talk show appearance or sits down for a one on one interview. Honestly, it's amazing that it's taken this long for a good director to give Brolin such a plumb comedic role (thank you Paul Thomas Anderson). It really is one of the best performances of an already stellar career. Ponder that hyperbole while you remember that's taking into account his recent work in “No Country for Old Men,” “W.” and “Milk.” That's how impressive Brolin is here. He pretty much steals every scene he's in and his commitment to the character is infectious. That being said, will enough of the Academy or even SAG see “Vice,” let alone appreciate it enough to recognize his work? We're slightly worried, but history may actually be on Brolin's side.
Anderson's last film, “The Master,” arrived with a tremendous amount of hype and critical acclaim, only to falter at the art house box office (a bad release date didn't help). Even with numerous year-end critics' kudos it left many thinking the drama was dead in the water when it came to Oscar nominations. Instead, the film shocked many as all three leads, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Phoenixm earned nods. “Vice” has not come with the “masterpiece” accolades that made “The Master” a must-see for Academy members (at least not so far), so that means WB is counting on members wanting to make sure they don't miss the auteur's latest endeavor. Sure, the film is trippy and confusing, but it's a detective story set in a trippy and confusing time. Adapted screenplay? Cinematography? Production design? Brolin? All very possible. Sometimes the Academy isn't given enough credit. We're going to hope this is another one of those times.
As for the premiere, Brolin, Phoenix and co-stars Katherine Waterston (also deserving of accolades), Sasha Pieterse and Hong Chau were on hand. Anderson wanted to get things going quickly, so he sadly did not bring them up in front of the audience before the film began. Biggest disappointment of the night? No Q&A after.
For more on “Inherent Vice” read Drew McWeeny's review.
“Inherent Vice” opens in limited release on Dec. 12.