It’s strange that while Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most masterful working directors in Hollywood, he’s never been my favorite. I love his movies, his casts are fantastic, he takes risks and follows through on them, but why hasn’t he made a more lasting impression on me? Here’s where my hopes for “Inherent Vice” were introduced: with it’s cast, source material and interesting blend of comedy and thrilling scenes included those found in the trailer, I hoped that this would be the movie that would make me love Anderson the way I should.
It’s not quite the case, not yet at least.
But “Inherent Vice” is still a great film if you know what you’re getting into. The film is a pot-fueled fever dream of the surrealist proportion, set against a 1970 backdrop in Los Angeles. “Inherent Vice” follows Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), a hippie private investigator tasked in investigating the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend’s married billonaire boyfriend’s disappearance. This takes Doc on a dark, yet oddly hilarious journey through underground Los Angeles investigating and interacting with the strangest collection of people that only 1970s California could supply.
Doc is also followed and harassed nearly constantly by Lt. Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), a hippie-hating police officer investigating Doc’s investigation to simply take him down. Both Phoenix and Brolin are award-worthy here, with the contrasting styles of their characters and their wonderfully written banter, they’re a perfect screen couple. The film is also filled with an ensemble cast giving all great performances, from Owen Wilson, Jena Malone, Benecio Del Toro, Reese Witherspoon, Maya Rudolph (wife of Anderson) and Martin Short, with equally impressive newcomers like Katherine Waterson, Hong Chau, Joanna Newsom and Jordan Christian Hearn.
“Inherent Vice” will not be for everyone though. I even found myself somewhat disconnected at points in the film from it’s surreal attitude and sometimes slow-moving plot with prolonged run time. Though for each time I looked at my phone for the time, there were twice as many laughs and entertaining scenes to be had. Others may have an issue with the near-constant drug use in the film or the blatant sexual content, but that didn’t bother me simply because it’s easy to read the Motion Picture Association of America rating and know what you’re getting into.
Anderson’s direction has a distinct 70s vibe to it. Being self-aware without becoming satirical and throwing back to the period in which it takes place without it becoming cheesy, “Inherent Vice” keeps a directorial balance. While the script could use some major trimming in some scenes and perhaps a bit more exposition to those who haven’t read the book, it is still strong enough to commend because when it’s good, its really good.
“Inherent Vice” was a film I enjoyed; I didn’t regret the time I spent with it and would probably watch it again. It’s not without its issues: it sometimes is a bit too surreal for my taste in some scenes and the film is about 20 minutes too long, but I couldn’t complain when the scenes were good. Phoenix and Brolin are gold amongst a wonderful ensemble cast. Anderson’s direction is classy and clever at the same time without being obnoxious or too self congratulatory. I still don’t have the distinct love for Anderson movies after watching this, but it’s still not a bad thing if I can regret not loving it as much as I should.
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterson, Reese Witherspoon, Benecio Del Toro, Martin Short, Jena Malone and Joanna Newsom.
Runtime: 148 minutes
Rating: R for drug use throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some violence.
Warner Bros. Pictures presents, in association with IAC Films, a Joanne Sellar/Ghoulardi Film Company production, “Inherent Vice”