Director-Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring-Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin
Scott’s Review #255
Reviewed July 7, 2015
Inherent Vice is a bizarre detective film noir type of experience, set in 1970 Los Angeles. Directed by the superb Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights and Magnolia), the film has a weirdness and incoherence that is a marvel to experience. Fans of a straightforward plot will not be thrilled with this film, but for fans of Anderson, this will not disappoint. It has a complex plot, but the payoff is grand and it is certainly a thinking man’s film.
The protagonist is Larry “Doc” Sportello, a stoner private detective, grizzled and jaded, who is contacted by his mysterious ex-girlfriend Shasta. She is worried about attempts by her boyfriend’s ex-wife and new lover’s attempts to kidnap him and have him committed. Mickey, Shasta’s boyfriend, is a wealthy real-estate developer. Doc is also hired by two other people- one a former heroin addict looking for her missing husband, and the other a former convict looking for a prison mate who owes him money and is a former henchman of Mickey’s. All of the stories clearly intersect and such oddities as a peculiar massage parlor and a ship named the Golden Fang come into play throughout the telling of the film. The intersecting stories lead to the revelation of a drug ring.
For much of the film I found myself with little idea what exactly was going on, but was still enthralled by it all the same. There is an unpredictability surrounding Inherent Vice that is so pleasing and captivating. Joaquin Phoenix is compelling as Doc, a damaged character whose past is unclear. When Doc is, by all accounts, framed for the murder of a convict and interrogated by the police, we wonder what history he has with them and what led him to branch out on his own as a private investigator. Detective “Bigfoot” Bjornsen, wonderfully played by Josh Brolin, is a rival of Doc’s, though it is unclear why. “Bigfoot” is frequently seen with chocolate covered phallic objects in his mouth and is married to a severe, overbearing woman. In fact, most of the characters are peculiar and have strange nuances, yet are never fully fleshed out, instead remaining curious and thought provoking. Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Torro, and Owen Wilson appear in small yet pivotal roles.
Quite reminiscent of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown and Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye, in both the California setting and the plodding, slow-paced, magnificent storytelling, Inherent Vice is a confusing gem, but by all means a gem worth seeing and reveling among the intrigue. Just don’t try to make too much sense of it all.