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.