Inherent Vice, 2014.
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Katherine Waterston, Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro, Eric Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jena Malone, and Martin Short.
In 1970, drug-fueled Los Angeles detective Larry “Doc” Sportello investigates the disappearance of a former girlfriend.
“What is Inherent Vice?”
“I don’t know”
The above may not be verbatim, but is the gist of an actual line from acclaimed director Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film Inherent Vice. Yes, not even the characters in this film know what the hell is going on or what they are wrapped up in. In essence though, that is part of the charm in this head-dizzying odyssey through the pot infested 70s of Los Angeles.
The decision to keep the story wrapped around the minds of viewers in a haze is an intentional one however, as Inherent Vice is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Thomas Pynchon, an author known for typically writing unnecessarily convoluted plots that challenge the minds of readers. The fact that this movie makes no sense upon an initial viewing is no fault of Paul Thomas Anderson. He made Magnolia which is a 3+ hour epic covering nine intertwining stories, and he effortlessly edited that movie together in a way that was cohesive and extremely accessible. Instead, Paul Thomas Anderson is here to honor everything Pynchon and Inherent Vice are about, without dumbing the narrative down to draw in a wider audience.
Inherent Vice truthfully isn’t a film about the destination anyway, but rather a journey filled with loads of interesting characters. It’s true that the more characters that are introduced the more lost you will become, but when you have personalities this wild and off-the-wall it’s kind of hard to care. I was lost a lot watching Inherent Vice but never felt bored or that I wasn’t having any fun, because the ensemble cast (consisting of well-known actors such as Josh Brolin, Benico Del Toro, Owen Wilson, Eric Roberts, and more) is just so damn entertaining with each person being distinct from one another.
Naturally, the real star of the show is Joaquin Phoenix portraying Doc, as his absolute confusion to everything surrounding him mirrors the audience. The only difference is our levels of marijuana consumption. Aside from that, Joaquin Phoenix also shows off some impeccable timing for some physical comedy – like a scene where he is walking through a hallway, gets surprise attacked from behind, and wildly punches the air as his unconscious body falls to the ground – that makes the adventure even more riotous. Furthermore, Inherent Vice isn’t really a film that takes itself seriously, which is a good thing because it allows viewers to disregard the fact that they are extremely lost in the plot, allowing them to soak in the characters and wildly fun recreation of hippie 70’s Los Angeles lifestyle.
As a director Paul Thomas Anderson is once again on his game in the production design department, with beach houses on display, that wacky lovable 70’s apparel and style (you have to love Joaquin Phoenix’s mutton chops), and groovy music featuring Neil Diamond and more. Of course, much of this is shown off with many tracking shots that we know Paul Thomas Anderson oh so loves. On another note, it truly is remarkable just how many periods he has taken on as a director and simply mesmerized us by bringing to life.
Simply put though, Inherent Vice will not be a movie for everyone. Even I have some gripes with it; mostly the length which encroaches on 2 hours and 30 minutes. I understand that content was already nixed from the novel to cut the film down to that, but it’s still a bit too much with some scenes moving far too slow. For the most part the film is entertaining, but occasionally can slow to a crawl. Also, the whole concept of creating a narrative that literally almost no one will be able to follow is bound to put off numerous, less open-minded viewers. At sometimes it even frustrated myself until I told myself to just focus on the characters and the fun that oozes from nearly every scene.
Scoring Inherent Vice is extremely difficult, as it feels like there should be two; one for those that aren’t familiar with the works of Thomas Pynchon and one for those that are. Coming into this movie blind, it isn’t one of the masterpiece that can usually be expected from director Paul Thomas Anderson, but for fans of the source material this is essentially a perfect adaptation and will result in a movie that they will love to death.
For me, Inherent Vice is another period piece project that allows Paul Thomas Anderson to demonstrate why he is one of the greatest American working directors in cinema today. It is also a film featuring him doing something different from anything he has done before, further expressing his range as a filmmaker. He also gets some fantastic performances out of an all-star cast that is wonderful to watch.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder – An aficionado of film, wrestling, and gaming. He currently writes for Flickering Myth, We Got This Covered, and Wrestle Enigma. Follow me on Twitter.