Inherent Vice

Up next is a look at Paul Thomas Anderson’s next feature film, Inherent Vice. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, and Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice is rated R for drug use throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some violence.

In 1970, drugged up Los Angeles detective Larry “Doc” Sportello (Phoenix) investigates the dissappearance of his ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend, only to stumble into more trouble than he originally thought he would encounter.

4.0 out of 10
I have dedicated 18 hours of my life to the movie Inherent Vice. 6 hours waiting in line to see it at New York Film Festival, 2 and a half hours seeing it, 2 hours reading the beginning of the book, 4 hours watching movies that were used for inspiration (The Long Goodbye and The Big Sleep), 2 and a half hours seeing the movie when it was released in theaters, and an hour skimming the screenplay afterwards. Why? Because I love Paul Thomas Anderson and I really wanted to love Inherent Vice (Spoiler alert: I didn’t).

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The first night that I saw Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson (man, myth, and legend) introduced the movie himself, along with the entire cast. He introduced his film as a “Saturday night movie” and told us to “kick back and relax”. That is the worst advice he could have given. This movie requires a a pencil, a notepad, and NO bathroom breaks if you want to know what is going on. If I am being totally honest I still only have a broad understanding of the plot. I do, however, understand where PTA is coming from. In the movies that inspired Inherent, The Long Goodbye and The Big Sleep, there are so many characters mentioned and so many events happening so fast that the audience only really keeps up with the basic plot of the movie instead of the case itself because of the rock that was the protagonist (in both cases, also a wise-cracking PI). The reason these movies succeeded and Inherent did not is because there was no anchor. Doc is emotional, drug abusing, and has a friend that disappears (???). His character is the looking glass the viewer sees the movie through, making us feel vulnerable and confused. The protagonists of the movies PTA was trying to emulate were very solid, making the movies solid.

Starting from the first scene I had no idea what was going on. There was a narration and then Katherine Waterston’s character mumbled through the set-up of the entire movie and left. After that there are Nazis, mental hospitals, and disappearing friends (???) for two and a half hours. In every single scene a new motive or character is introduced which gets hard to keep track of from the get-go. PTA has called this the kind of movie you might need to see twice, which I think is complete bullshit because that is not a kind of movie, it’s just bad filmmaking.

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Inherent Vice isn’t all bad though! The giant cast is without a bad performance, especially Josh Brolin who was absolutely brilliant as a “civil rights violating” cop whose partner’s death left him bitter. Most importantly though, it’s, of course, beautifully shot by Robert Elswit on 35mm. I could genuinely watch it on mute just for the visuals. There is a 470 foot dolly shot following doc and chasta (Katherine Waterson) running through the rain that gave me goosebumps both times I saw it in theaters and all of the times I’ve watched the scene on youtube.

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Every director has a dud. This is PTA’s dud. But being the actual genius he is, he will dust himself off and dazzle us all with his next movie. That is to say, Inherent Vice has not turned me off of Paul Thomas Anderson and agreeing with me shouldn’t turn you off of his work either.

PS: After writing this review I’ve now spent 19 hours of my life on Inherent Vice.

6.0 out of 10

There are some movies that just kind of chug along as though there’s no audience to please: they’re usually inhabited by some wacky characters that fit the pace as well and the plot takes several detours on its way to a (maybe) unsatisfying destination. These types of films truly never fail to earn my begrudging respect as you almost kind of have to like it when the creators of a movie just kind of…went without one care in the entire, whole wide, increasingly critical world. Usually though, there’s but one factor that can make these slower endeavors at least somewhat enjoyable to me: style.

Owen Wilson and Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice.

And Inherent Vice has got itself some style. Definitely a weird style but it’s the quantity of style plenty of movies sorely lack nonetheless so I guess the question of this review is largely whether it scraped enough style together to create an enjoyable experience. Before we dive in, I’ll go over the plot as best as I possibly can:

Private Investigator Doc Sportello has to deal with a series of odd cases that are tied together through one mysterious criminal organization called the Golden Fang. He is eventually forced to navigate himself through the seedier underbellies of Los Angeles to get to the bottom of all these issues. Doc encounters a slew of oddball characters in an onslaught of resulting strange events and additionally starts to revamp his relationship with his ex-wife Shasta along the way.

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That’s kind of the best I can do. I’m not even trying to shield you from spoilers too too much, it’s just a film that dips into a lot of events and characters with differing levels of success. In all honesty, I’d probably need to give this all a second go-around to give you a more detail-rich synopsis which I am honestly unwilling to do because this whole two hour and twenty eight minute crime-comedy-mystery-drama-romance-amalgam was just so incredibly taxing.

So, let’s keep this complex movie simple, shall we? Was it good? Like many people who saw it, I’m not too crazy about it but I didn’t think it was bad either. Like I said before, the only thing that can save a movie that simply does not care is style and this film had quite a distinct taste and modus operandi that (as far as I’ve heard) fit its eponymous source material accurately. Its strange characters are pretty memorable and well-portrayed as well and I’d rather have notable characters in a winding plotline than a series of bland ones in a tight plotline.

But around the third plot pit-stop, I started to get, for lack of a better word, pissed. Yes, I said it can be admirable when a movie just kind of goes but there is an audience and they have shelled out an $11.50 to watch your film so, please, put a bottleneck on the amount of stories you intertwine with your protagonist’s! Seriously, every time I started to like a well-crafted character during this, another one popped up to take his place. The story (ies?) got ridiculously crowded and any coherence sought out suffocated under the film about one fourth of the way through.

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If you’re incredibly (incredibly) tolerant to a writer or director’s whim and you’re willing to afford a movie a lot of wandering because of how well-done it can be, Inherent Vice is the one for you. But if you want a story that beelines to an exact conclusion with calculated characters, don’t dig through the case files of Mr. Doc Sportello.



The 4th Best picture nominee that we’ll be taking a look at is Spike Jonze’s Her. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, and Scarlett Johansson, this sci-fi romance is rated R for language, sexual content, and brief graphic nudity.

Her explores the life of depressed, recently divorced writer, Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) who decides to buy the new ‘OS1’; an operating system with a conscious. Theodore slowly finds himself falling in love with Samantha (Johansson), his operating system. Samantha struggles with all these new emotions she has never experienced before, while also trying to come to terms with being nothing more than a computer. On the other hand, Theodore finds himself both joyful and doubtful with himself and his relationship with an OS.

9 out of 10

As I’ve displayed before, I have the tendency to get excited by movies based on the trailers alone, and Her is a prime example of this. And more often than not, I tend to be disappointed by the movie. Thank goodness Her was not one of these movies.

I’ll get the more literal aspects of the film out of the way first. Joaquin Phoenix delivers a tremendous performance as the conflicted Theodore Twombly, and could have easily earned a Best Actor nominee if the race wasn’t so stacked this year and if he hadn’t… Completely trashed the Academy Awards a year ago. Likewise, leading lady Scarlett Johansson was phenomenal in her voice only role as Samantha. Even though we can’t see her, we can feel and understand her struggle. It’s real. The screenwriting has been heralded and with good reason. The story is innovative and creative, and the dialogue is beautifully written, yet human.


It’s really hard to describe the beauty of this film. The direction, specifically the artistic direction, is absolutely stunning and I’m honestly kind of disappointed that Spike Jonze didn’t get a Best Director nod for this. Visibly, the film is gorgeous. Yes, the brilliant color scheme filled with oranges, reds, and yellow did have a purpose. It contributed to the warm mood of the entire movie. When the colors changed and became darker and more drained, so did the tone. Jonze uses the colors for the purpose of setting a tone, which is extremely important in a film such as this one, as it relies on emotions, both characters’ and audience’s, in order to succeed.

That’s another thing this movie does so well with; evoking emotions. It’s such a deep film, and somehow something we can all connect to, whether you’re older and in love, or younger and ignorant. Being a teenage boy, I can proudly say my only love has been with my phone and my Playstation, but I still manage to connect with this film. In this new future that Jonze has wonderfully created, technology is so important. Theodore Twombly relies on Samantha to check his email, schedule meetings, and later on, forget about his loneliness. In today’s world, where people are so enamored with technology, it’s not hard to actually make a connection with this movie, even if you are a teenager like me.

Though I loved the movie, it still had it flaws. At around 90 minutes, I admittedly found myself a little bored at the 90 minute mark, and that’s because the movie doesn’t really have a concrete structure (meaning it doesn’t have a set introduction, climax, conclusion, etc). It’s more allegorical, as it’s one of those films meant to inspire and send a message rather than present a compelling story. This is not a movie that will appeal to everyone (even though I said everyone can connect to it), and it’s not unlikely that you could get bored by the movie. It does tend to repeat itself. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this movie pointless—it’s not—it’s just trying to get a different type of point across.

The relevance of this movie to you is based on how much you can individually connect to it. If you aren’t fond of the emotional, heart-gripping stuff, I’m not so sure this movie is for you. I would still recommend you check it out, because it is a fresh new perspective of love and the technologically oriented 21st century, told in a beautiful, eye opening fashion.

7 out of 10

(NOTE: Some parts of this review may seem harsh but, at this point of the year, I’ll be grading it in comparison with its fellow nominees. AKA. The score is weighted.)

Last week, I joked at the end of the review about having not seen “the movie about that guy who falls in love with Siri”. Cruel as that description may sound, I’m also 100% sure that that exact sentiment went through your head when you first saw the trailer for this. Whether it remained there permanently or shifted over time is your own choice. You know that. I know that.

But, most shockingly, the Spike Jonze and his entire crew understood that. And he usually pinpoints the exact moments where it should be joked about perfectly. Thank God for self-awareness. I could easily see this film fading into oblivion at any random, pretentious film-fest.

Here, though, the self-awareness swiftly saves it from that but that doesn’t necessarily excuse some of the other shortcomings of the movie. Let’s start with the positive then ease into the negative (I love a good flatlining just as much as any amateur critic).

First off, it’s a beautiful film. Shot in a mix of Shanghai and Los Angeles, it occupies a unique backdrop while remaining self contained (Just like any other provoking movie should). It’s muted colors and use of shades often reinforce the feelings of emptiness and isolation. Yet, as the love story develops, it unloads a barrage of colorful shots while also managing to mix some natural settings beside its urban habitat.

We also get some great work between Scarlett Johansson and Joaquin Phoenix here. Joaquin has to do plenty of scenes alone, in complete silence but actually says more than any lines written in could. Johansson faces a similar situation; she has to utilize only her voice for this and she still has a presence. Even in scenes where she isn’t involved, Siri (It’s actually Samantha but this my review darnit!) has a positive attitude that influences Joaquin’s character so much that it still weighs over every scene he’s in alone.

But, as great as those great things are, it still managed to offset me somehow. I didn’t leave this movie thinking “Wow! That HAS to win!” but I also didn’t quite leave it profoundly impacted either and part of that is that the movie opens up a can of worms that it really didn’t need to.

Her would’ve done an impeccable job if it had stuck to an analyzation of either modern relationships (Like 500 Days of Summer) or of how technology gives us a false comfort (Even in a somewhat dystopian fashion). I have no doubt it could do both and it tries to, but also piles on an existential layer that really seemed off to me. Hollow in that fill-in-the-blank, do-it-yourself great movie way.

Yes, Siri’s search for humanity felt somewhat misplaced to me. Joaquin’s character should have taken up way more time, development and exertion than that plot. Instead, we get a repetitive cycle of fights between him and Siri.

And because it spends so much time with those weaker more out of place scenes, I didn’t quite get the impact that I wanted in the final quarter or so and that confined the movie to being lukewarm rather than red hot. No matter how good a first lap can be, all it takes is a couple of seconds to lose the lead.

But should you not see it? No. It’s very worth seeing, it just might not be as great of an experience as its factors set it up for.

I really wish I could place my feelings about it more but I’m still developing over it, even now. Who knows? Maybe it may click and all make sense for me at a random moment. But, for now, its trailing a bit in the Best Picture race.

IMDB: 8.0
Metacritic: 90 
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%