Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice is a cinematic oxymoron. Anderson, a celebrated American auteur, has dropped his darkly brilliant sensibilities and opted to concoct a stoner/noir/spoof movie. He’s traded in metaphorical milkshake-drinking for weed-smoking slapstick. The results are gloriously muddled, yet ultimately make for some wickedly pungent and hysterical viewing.
Based on the offbeat Thomas Pynchon novel, the film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello. Doc is an unlikely and unwilling protagonist. He’s a shaggy, half-baked, marijuana-loving private eye who bounces around Los Angeles trying to solve an odd little missing persons case that grows more and more complicated and convoluted as each hour rolls on.
Every character and every cameo appearance has some intricate, ornate story to tell. Every story is filled with complexity that somehow relates to the one told before it. Details, names, facts, red-herrings and locations are spat out in furious succession. Conspiracy theories abound. Everything is meant to add up. And maybe it does, but in the end you really don’t care about where the narrative is leading.
The trick is to not over-think, over-analyse or allow yourself to become frustrated by this particular joint. There may indeed be layers upon layers of Anderson’s prototypical hidden meanings and allegories underneath all of that green fog. But I believe the director intends for his audience to just sit back and inhale these characters in this setting, and let the effect wash over you like some kind of filmic-hallucinogen.
Anderson’s hazy coastal universe is chock-filled with humour both wacky and ridiculous as the film explores straight-laced America’s attempt to stomp out the remnants of a dying 1960’s hippy culture. Phoenix is fantastic as the disheveled, paranoid anti-hero and he is contrasted wonderfully by Josh Brolin’s hard-edged renaissance detective Bigfoot Bjornsen. Brolin has a head that was custom-made for a crew cut. The film is pure comedy bliss whenever these two share the screen.
Adding to the band of offbeat misfits includes Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Owen Wilson, Jena Malone, Maya Rudolph, Katherine Waterston and a coked-up Martin Short. These players are all universally golden.
Being a director of precision, who scrutinises his mise-en-scene meticulously, Inherent Vice may just be the most beautifully shot and intricately framed spoof movie in the genre’s history. The 70’s aesthetic feels genuine and perfectly reconstructed.
Excluding some of the excess in the final hour that causes Vice to lose its momentum, the film is littered with eccentric characters and amusing moments that are a real treat to linger on. Allow yourself to be intoxicated by these moments. It’s a trip.
THE VERDICT: 3.5/5
Genre: Crime, Comedy, Noir
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Owen Wilson, Jena Malone, Maya Rudolph, Katherine Waterston and a coked-up Martin Short
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Running time: 148 minutes