Seriously, this needs to happen. The connection between the two actually runs pretty deep. PT Anderson happens to be good friends with Robert Downey Jr.'s father. Those two, earlier this year, made a series of videos for Criterion Collection where they took a look at some of Robert Downey Sr.'s films that had been released in a Criterion boxset at around the same time. Naturally, PT Anderson and Downey Jr. also have a mutual respect for each other.
Paul Thomas Anderson has been talking about his next movie being a Thomas Pynchon adaptation, Inherent Vice. Just reading the book could make someone excited about the potential prospect of PT Anderson making the film version and Robert Downey Jr. playing the main character. What's most exciting for me is that the tone is lighter, looser, and at times, sillier than where PT has been lately. The Master has some funny bits and pieces but it's got two intense male (and one female) performances. Robert Downey Jr. could inject a fresh, new, energetic life. It's not that PTA necessarily needs a change of pace, but he's always been one to be two steps ahead of all of us. The Master, though, wasn't all too far away, in terms of mood, from There Will Be Blood. Two different movies, but they both feature intense lead characters who never change. Overall, they're serious in tone and in the themes they explore. What I loved about The Master though was its willingness to simply leave things open. With TWBB, you knew Daniel Plainview was scum, you know Eli Sunday was scum. But Freddie Quell? Lancaster Dodd? Peggy Dodd? Are they bad people? Yes and no. That's much more of a gray area.
Nevertheless, doing a film like Inherent Vice next is a great next step. It kinda has a Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye feel to it and we all know what a big fan PT Anderson is of him. What we know most of PT Anderson is his willingness to change. His style hasn't evolved, it's shifted dramatically. Is it that he's matured? Perhaps. Is it simply that he will cop to any style as long as it suits the film?
The reason why Paul Thomas Anderson is my favorite filmmaker today is because, like Louis CK in stand-up comedy, PT Anderson just does things on an entirely different level than everyone else. It's not that he's better, it's just that nobody is even trying to do what he does right now. No one is entering the territories he's immersed himself in. But, most of all, nobody seems so confident and comfortable in completely changing the way they work in order to service the story they're trying to tell. He's looser, more willing to try a bunch of things and see what fits. He's more capable than ever in giving his actors free range to explore as much as they want to.
He's also less indulgent. In the Magnolia days, he fought to keep the running time at three hours, eight minutes. At the time, he was insistent it stay that long. He thought every frame of the film needed to remain. Now? He admits that he could've cut a few scenes out or shortened a few here and there. He admits that it could be shorter. That new attitude reflects The Master. It's a 135-minute film and tons of footage has presumably been cut out. So much so that he has created a 20-minute collage of scenes that were cut from the film and it's gonna be on the DVD/BD release.
Those who have followed the film's marketing from the beginning know that there was some great footage in the teaser trailers that were not in the final cut of the film. Perhaps in 1999, The Master would've been 160 minutes long, but now? He's not that guy anymore. He's grown up.
Robert Downey Jr. has also grown up, dramatically. Here's a guy who constantly had drug problems in the '90s and early '00s. A great, promising actor who constantly put his career in jeopardy even if he wound up getting rave reviews in nearly all of his performances. He's a natural acting talent, always has been. He's a great movie persona that never seems to get old no matter what movie he's in and that personality exploding when he was cast as Iron Man in 2008. Before the movie came out, people actually wondered if he could carry the movie and whether it could be successful. Well? After Iron Man, its sequel, and The Avengers, as well as another film franchise: the Sherlock Holmes trilogy; RDJ has firmly established himself as one of Hollywood's go-to leading men.
The problem? Aside from starring in Due Date with Zach Galifianakis back in 2010, Downey Jr. has basically only been in blockbusters. He also had a great, memorable role in Tropic Thunder. But, how great would it be for this reinvigorated leading man to star in a fun, loose Paul Thomas Anderson film?
The one thing that has always managed to elude Paul Thomas Anderson is box office success. He's been Oscar-nominated, he's won tons of critics awards, he has respect from his peers in the industry as well as many critics. He has a devoted fanbase, but it's not that large clearly. Otherwise, explain how The Master only managed a $15 million intake. He's never gonna be the one to willingly make a crowd pleaser, a film that his fans will love right away and that will crossover to a larger movie audience. There Will Be Blood had a reasonable amount of success, but not that much either.
That's why collaborating with Robert Downey Jr. is perfect. Here's a critically acclaimed actor with box office clout working with a critically acclaimed filmmaker lacking in commercial success. Who knows how Inherent Vice turns out, but if the adaptation winds up being as fun as the book is...
Perhaps I'm getting a bit ahead of myself, I'm just excited by the idea. As much as I'm looking forward to another PT Anderson film, I'm also looking forward to Robert Downey Jr. capitalizing on his recent success and trying on something with a little more dramatic flair to it.