Written & Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
It is 1970, Los Angeles, California. Larry “Doc” Sportello is a private detective of the utmost stoner kind. He receives a visit from his ex-girlfriend Shasta and a semi-detective story unravels. A meandering, and I mean that in the most positive of ways, confounding, hilarious, crime-comedy-drama is at play here in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, an adaptation by Anderson, of the novel of the same name, from the wonderfully mysterious Thomas Pynchon. Inherent Vice is another wonderful addition into the great canon of films and environments Anderson has crafted, and a film that is more about the journey than any overall destination. A film that feels as if it is a series of mesmerizing, marijuana-fueled diagrams of a culture that is long gone and a world full of crafty, engaging characters, that are more important than the overall story that is being presented. Inherent Vice is an experience to be had and one that will only grow in stature with age and multiple viewings.
The film is centered on Sportello, played with absolute brilliance and gusto by a mutton chopped Joaquin Phoenix. After that visit from Shasta (Katherine Waterston), he goes on an investigation that leads him to kidnapping plots, sex clubs, spies for/against Richard Nixon, drug dealings and the eventual search for Shasta, who goes missing herself. I am not even going to get into the complexities of the story. I never felt completely lost, but after about 30 to 40 minutes, I gave up and just enjoyed the ride. I lathered in the astonishing performances, the stoner vibe and the slapstick-y feel of the comedy and drama. It has a sense of place and a nod to odd detective films like Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye and The Coen’s The Big Lebowski, but those had a slightly more coherent storyline than this one. This film is out there man. I mean, the more I think about the film, the more it soaks in and the more I love every second of it.
Anderson, who feels like he has gone back to his Altman influenced days, i.e. Boogie Nights and Magnolia, although nowhere near as heavy as either of those films, but with a confounding story, fascinating characters and an impressive, large cast. The first thing that I loved about Inherent Vice was how Anderson has created a world that feels so lived in and a place where you just want to go down near the California beach, smoke a joint, crack open a beer and just laugh your day away. The irony is that the film is saturated with this constant state of paranoia in Sportello’s constant search for people and strange, sometimes serious issues that arise throughout. This is the time when Nixon was the President, Vietnam had everyone on edge and the counterculture was being turned down and fading away. Well, at least the weed kept everyone alive with a level head. Anderson has created a magnificent world in Inherent Vice and one that is fueled by some “out there” performances.
I have to start with the greatness and dedication of Phoenix. There was not one time where I did not believe him as this stoner detective. He is constantly smoking weed and always either utterly relaxed or consistently on the lookout for something. Phoenix has Sportello nailed down perfectly, much like his previous role in Anderson’s The Master and Spike Jonze’s Her. He is on a roll right now. Waterston is a breakout in this films and is completely committed to the attempted shyness of Shasta. A quiet beach girl with a soul and mind that has much more behind those beautiful brown eyes. There are many small roles from some great actors as well, including Benicio del Toro playing Doc’s lawyer, Owen Wilson as a drugged out chameleon of sorts, Reese Witherspoon as D.A. dating Doc and the best in show, Martin Short. He is fucking amazing and I could just watch the film for his super small role. I really wish he had more screen time, but what we get is magical. There is also the bull-headed police detective “Bigfoot,” played by Josh Brolin. Mean, silly and always tailing Doc’s ass, Brolin gives a solid, hilarious performance. The pancake scene is gold.
It is really hard to put Inherent Vice into words. A film that is fueled by setting, place and the characters presented. A film that requires multiple viewings to unravel the hidden, and maybe not hidden, layers situated in its two and a half hour run time. I feel it will grow gracefully and in about 5 to 10 years, it will be another flat-out classic from Paul Thomas Anderson. I actually cannot wait to jump back into this world and soak in the great characters, performances, and attempt to unravel this mysterious, confusing, drug-fueled story that Anderson has presented. I loved it.
Photo credit by IMDB.