I’ve been really excited for Inherent Vice ever since writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson announced the project as his next film. It’s based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Pynchon, and I have the book in my collection but I never finished it because I’m very lazy when it comes to reading and finishing books. I also didn’t want to spoil too much of what I was in store for with Inherent Vice. PTA (abbreviated for Paul Thomas Anderson) has made some of the great American movies of not only the past 25 years, but of all time. You have thought-provoking studio fare like Boogie Nights and Magnolia, and as of recently PTA has gone for the more independent route with There Will Be Blood and The Master. The former is the best film of the decade and arguably of the century by far. And the latter is currently one of the very best of the decade. So its safe to say that I was excited for PTA’s latest feature. Here’s my review of Inherent Vice.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Doc Sportello, a private investigator who spends most of his time smoking dope and solving mysteries in 1970’s Southern California. This was an era where a very anti-hippy feel across the country was looming around, largely due to Richard Nixon’s presidency. Doc is constantly clashing with Bigfoot Bjornsen, a Detective played by Josh Brolin. The film opens with Doc’s former lover, played by Katherine Waterson, walking up to his door letting him know that there is a plot against her current lover played by Eric Roberts, and it involves his wife, neo-nazis, and all sorts of folks. What Doc realizes while investigating is that this is a plot that spans further than just a kidnapping and ransom plot.
As you can tell, the films plot is very convoluted. When I read the parts of the book that I did read, I got that sense reading it. Maybe its intentional that the plot is so complicated and confusing because of the amount of reefer that our characters consume throughout the film. I’ll be honest when I tell you that I felt high watching Inherent Vice, because I’m trying to figure out what was going on throughout the entire film, and I was clean as a whistle during the film. It’s just a little too jumbled for its own good at times, and frankly, this is the weakest of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films that I’ve seen. However, that doesn’t mean that I disliked the film. I liked it quite a bit, but I didn’t love it like I thought I would.
Of course, Joaquin Phoenix is incredible as Doc. Phoenix and PTA both worked on The Master in 2012, and while Phoenix played a much darker and more complex individual in that flick instead of his pot-smoking counterpart here, you can tell that Phoenix is having a blast playing this character. In fact, this film is sort of a low brow stoner comedy directed and made by high brow people. That’s how I saw the movie at least. Because other than the very confusing plot, it doesn’t get as dark or dreary as Anderson’s last two films. This is easily the lightest and least depressing of Anderson’s films to date, which is nice that I didn’t feel bummed out after seeing the film, but I don’t really think I’ll remember the film for years to come. Granted, some folks will, and God bless you for loving this film, it just wasn’t quite my cup of tea, but it was close.
Josh Brolin also does some fine work here as the cop, and we also get some great little supporting (albeit small) roles by Benicio del Toro as Doc’s lawyer, Owen Wilson as a missing musician, Reese Witherspoon as a current girlfriend of Doc’s, and many more. One of the strangest parts of the film (which I’m going back and forth on if it could have been cut for length) is when Doc meets a coke fiend of a dentist, played rather brilliantly by Martin Short. We’re all use to seeing Short play eccentric in his comedic roles, so its a little fitting that he’s playing a rather entertaining coke-head, but he’s only in the film for a couple of scenes. Everybody’s great in the film, but none of these supporting characters are in it for that long. It’s mostly Sportello meeting all of these characters.
And while the ride can be very fun at times, you can feel the length. I knew going into this film that it would be long, because PTA is like Martin Scorsese in where he doesn’t know how to make a film under two hours. You feel the length of this two and a half hour movie, and it hurts your butt watching it. All of PTA’s films are very long, but there’s always so much meatiness to every frame that its worth it, and in the case of There Will Be Blood, which is a near three hour film about the oil industry in the early 20th century, every frame of that film is fascinating and you can’t take your eyes off of it. Here, Inherent Vice is nowhere near as complex with their characters as those previous films. So the film just feels very long and maybe a good half-hour could’ve been cut from the film. It hurts me to say that, but it’s true.
It sounds like I have more negative things to say about Inherent Vice than positive, but I didn’t hate the film. I really liked it, but I just didn’t love it. The film can be very funny in a surreal and bizarre way, and Joaquin Phoenix is incredible as always, but its not the next PTA masterpiece like I hoped it would be. If you’re a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson, I recommend you see Inherent Vice, but keep your hopes low. This is the utter definition of a cult classic. The film expanded nationwide, and I assume that I will continue to expand if the film is successful.