Joaquin Phoenix and Paul Thomas Anderson take ‘Inherent Vice’ to Warner Bros

There are a number of outlets that I would argue do a good job covering the oh-so-broad world of entertainment, and I certainly hope HitFix is one of those sites. But for some writers, having a much more narrow focus allows them to do one thing very, very well, and a great example of that would be Red Vines & Cigarettes, a website devoted to the work of Paul Thomas Anderson.

It should surprise no one that the first firm word of what’s going on with “Inherent Vice,” the next film from the writer/director of “The Master,” “There Will Be Blood,” and “Boogie Nights,” would come from this particular source, but the news itself is somewhat surprising, if only because it looks like a very different process for the filmmaker this time.

Anderson has always been independent-minded, even if he did make “Punch-Drunk Love” for Revolution and even if he had the support of New Line as they were trying to make the jump from mini-major to major-major. His first film, “Hard Eight,” was something he put together himself, and on his last movie, he had Megan Ellison and the very deep pockets of her Anapurna Pictures to help him realize his vision.

When word started to break that Anapurna Pictures was not behind this new film, there was a weird sort of mini-panic that I saw manifest in fans online, as if suddenly Anderson was throwing his entire career under the bus. I think that’s hardl the case. The truth is that Annapurna had a good experience with Anderson and vice versa, and it would not shock me at all to see them work together again.

When it was rumored that Robert Downey Jr. was going to star in “Inherent Vice,” it made sense for that to be an appealing project for a studio. With Joaquin Phoenix playing the lead instead, I’m excited on a creative level. While I still have a few problems with “The Master,” repeated viewings of it have only elevated my opinion of the work that Phoenix does in the film. It is an exceptional performance, a truly impressive and vibrant piece of work, and as a collaboration with a filmmaker, it is more an act of magic than art. Seeing Phoenix work with PTA again is, simply put, as exciting a combination of filmmaker and performer as I can name right now.

And Robert Elswit, who was Anderson’s cinematographer on almost everything, is coming back to shoot this new one, which will be shot on film. 35mm. No digital. So exciting.

It’s going to be fascinating to watch Warner Bros. get behind a Paul Thomas Anderson-helmed adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel with a leading man who is not especially considered a commercial powerhouse. This is the sort of gamble that Warner has made a history of spinning into gold, and if there’s any marketing department on the planet that can take this kind of challenge and come back with something worthwhile, it’s Warner.

The book is a lovely, funny piece of work about a private detective in the late ’60s in Los Angeles. Doc Sportello is perfectly happy existing on the fringe of the scene in Venice until his ex-girlfriend shows up and drags him into a kidnapping case. It’s probably the most linear, accessible thing that Pynchon ever wrote and it’s a great character. For both PTA and Phoenix, this could be a mainstream moment that will give them room to try more personal things afterwards, and yet it’s in no way a step down from the sort of thing they normally do.

Great work by Red Vines and Cigarettes on this one, and I look forward to seeing how it comes together in the days and months ahead.