Inherent Vice is an Unforgettable Trip

Following some of his most earnest and darkest films (There Will Be Blood & The Master), writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson’s seventh feature film, Inherent Vice, is much lighter in tone and material. It’s wacky, goofy, and has plenty of moments that are just plain out there. However, that is not to say that this film lacks ambition and Anderson’s distinctive direction. Despite the fact that Inherent Vice might be Anderson’s most bizarre project, it still is one of his most ambitious. Adapting from acclaimed novelist, Thomas Pynchon, Anderson channels Pynchon’s dense material into an eccentric adventure that spoofs the noir detective genre. Its clever, compelling, and boldly ridiculous. Like most Paul Thomas Anderson’s film, Inherent Vice, will definitely divide audiences. Even so, there is still a rewarding experience to be found.

Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice

Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice

Inherent Vice follows stoner and private investigator, Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), as he navigates through the psychedelic and free loving era of the 60s and 70s. One day he is startled when his ex-girlfriend, Shasta (Katherine Waterston), stops by his house and has a job for him to do. She wants his him to investigate the potential kidnapping of her billionaire boyfriend. Sportello nonchalantly accepts, and embarks on a wild adventure that has him come across strange people and even stranger circumstances.

Paul Thomas Anderson has brilliantly created a stoner’s Odyssey that transports us to a world full of paranoia, possible hallucinations, unique characters, and a far out mystery to solve. It’s superbly shot, wonderfully acted, and contains a groovy soundtrack and a phenomenal score. The spirit of Inherent Vice relaxes and entices you into just letting these oddball characters- especially “Doc”- take you wherever they go. Anderson has provided another surreal movie experience this time leading and misleading the audience through the mind of a paranoid dope-head whose only real concerns are his ex-girlfriend and getting high.  It is a vibrant experience that is confident in itself, its cleverness, and wackiness. Sure, the plot and the mystery are convoluted and even disoriented. There is no guarantee that the mystery might even add up to a complete understanding but this leads to an amusing bewilderment.

Inherent Vice becomes completely compelling and full of satirical brilliance when Anderson focuses on spoofing the noir detective genre. In this aspect, Inherent Vice is a real winner that has a lot more to offer than just stoners in a hazy daze. This movie has obvious parallels to The Big Lebowski and Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas; however, Paul Thomas Anderson’s main focus is to toy with the conventional detective story. Inherent Vice has more to do with 1970’s noir films (think Chinatown), than any other type of film. Paul Thomas Anderson adapts the California setting, the ‘who did it?’ mystery, and issues and questions regarding real estate, politics, corruption of law enforcements, revenge, and of course greed. By using this as the backbone of the story, Anderson astutely toys with these genre conventions and by doing so creates humorous absurdity that is from the mind of a true auteur.

Although the movie might be a tad bit too long, the acting helps guide the film back into controlled chaos. The story might not be going anywhere, but the journey with these unique characters make the trip worthwhile. Anderson has gathered a great group of actors that help add to the layers of weirdness. At the center is the always great Joaquin Phoenix who is uncanny in his performance as the laid back pothead. Phoenix is extremely funny as Doc and is the one we invest most in. It’s his story and mystery to solve, and if the task and clues may seem incoherent to the viewer it’s okay because the always high Doc most definitely feels the same way. Paired with Phoenix is the equally great and outrageous Josh Brolin as the LAPD detective, Bigfoot. It is quite the odd pairing but they work wonders together and provide some of the biggest laughs just with their physical presence.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice is full of oddities. There are plenty of offbeat characters, oddball moments, and all around absurdity. It doesn’t concern itself with a coherent plot or story, but it does offer Anderson a chance to break genre conventions. By playing with the detective noir, Anderson has created a vivid atmosphere that explores the culture, characters, and environment of his 1970s California. Its a unique experience that honors film’s past, but also admirably tries to expand beyond its genre.

The best way to sum up this wild adventure is it’s like experiencing a drug trip. Inherent Vice is simply a ridiculously odd film that gets you slightly disoriented, amused, and laughing at sheer wackiness. It is definitely an experience you don’t want to forget and something you would like to understand, but you will probably just end up in an incomprehensible daze. So, don’t be afraid to give it another try.

 The cast includes: Joaquin Phoenix (Her), Josh Brolin (Gangster Squad), Katherine Waterston (Robot & Frank), Owen Wilson (Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb), Eric Roberts (The Dark Night), and Martin Short (Frankenweenie). It was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master).

3.5 out of 4 stars

-By Louie Coruzzolo

In case you missed our video review for this week, check it out below:


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