DIRECTOR: Paul Thomas Andersoninherent_vice

CAST: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Jena Malone, Joanna Newsom, Jordan Christian Hearn, Hong Chau, Jeannie Berlin, Maya Rudolph, Michael K. Williams, Michelle Sinclair, Martin Short, Sasha Pieterse, Martin Donovan, Eric Roberts, Serena Scott Thomas, Yvette Yates, Andrew Simpson, Jefferson Mays, Keith Jardine, Peter McRobbie, Sam Jaeger, Timothy Simons, Martin Dew, Shannon Collis, Christopher Allen Nelson, Vivienne Khaledi, Jillian Bell, Elaine Tan, Delaina Mitchell, Erica Sullivan

RUNNING TIME: 148 mins


BASICALLY…: Private detective Larry “Doc” Sportello (Phoenix) investigates the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend’s lover, only to get tangled up in several threads of mayhem…


Paul Thomas Anderson usually likes to take strange, oddball stories and make them look even stranger and more oddball-ish on the screen. Who could forget the shower of frogs in Magnolia, or Mark Wahlberg’s prosthetic schlong in Boogie Nights, or even Daniel Day-Lewis’ obsession with drinking metaphorical milkshakes in There Will Be Blood? The tables have now turned with Inherent Vice, Anderson’s follow-up to the divisive faux-Scientology flick The Master, as the filmmaker now has to deal with the work of a real-life strange oddball: reclusive author Thomas Pynchon.

Amazingly, this is the first of Pynchon’s novels to be adapted into a feature film – based on his 2009 book of the same name – and watching it unravel, it begins to become clearer why nobody had dared tackle his work before. Only Anderson could craft a visual interpretation of Pynchon’s work while keeping his own unique style intact, and the result is something truly – you guessed it – strange and oddball.

We’re not even going to try and explain the plot to you outside of the brief blurb at the top of this page – it is beyond complicated and hard to follow, with so many things happening with so much to keep ahead of that it’s rather astounding. All we can comprehend is that there’s a missing billionaire, his wife and lover are behind the disappearance, a missing musician has become an informant of sorts, there’s the young daughter of a businessman who’s kinda sorta involved with a drug-addled dentist, a hard-boiled detective is trying to rip-off said businessman, there’s a murder at a brothel, there are some corrupt FBI agents, another murder case or two, a former girlfriend of the main character comes back into play at various points… and that’s not even half of what’s going on. Needless to say, this film requires a TON of patience from the casual filmgoer otherwise things can go south very easily.

We’ll be honest; at first, even WE didn’t know what to make of it. It’s so convoluted, so layered and so hard to figure out with what limited brain juice we have that’d you’d probably have to be as high as Joaquin Phoenix’s “hippie” PI Larry “Doc” Sportello to get by. And that’s when eureka struck: maybe the reason why it’s all so confusing and weird to us is because it’s all so confusing and weird to HIM. Doc is something of a lost soul, either getting high on whatever substance he can find or just slouching around his beach house like the post-60s slacker he is. So, when he takes on what should be a simple missing-persons case, suddenly a whole world of mayhem and debauchery opens up to him – and, against all odds, he of all people turns out to be the SANE one. His response is to therefore get high and attempt to breeze through it as if it’s an everyday situation (which, of course, it certainly isn’t). Anderson plays the movie as though we truly are looking at the world through Doc’s eyes, and his reaction to certain events is our reaction; confused, puzzled, and wishing we were high to understand it all. Whether the effect works or doesn’t work on the audience is entirely willing to get lost in this strange world that Pynchon and Anderson have helped create together. Then, just like that, a film we had no idea what to think about suddenly became a film we admired, albeit not as entirely flawless as we’d like it to be.

Like we said, the story is beyond difficult to comprehend or even follow, but if you’re going just to be eyewitness to this very bizarre interpretation of late-60s/early-70s California then chances are you’ll have a dazzling time. The attention to detail is very impressive, from the glorious sets to the effective costume design to Robert Elswit’s illustrious cinematography (an extended static shot involving Doc and ex-girlfriend Shasta – played by relative newcomer Katherine Waterston, making a huge impact here in more ways than one – is as beautifully done as it is stunningly erotic) helping to elevate it above its other flaws. Acting-wise, most of the ensemble has some good moments, with standouts including Waterston and Josh Brolin as an intimidating police detective and part-time actor – though we could have used just a little more of Martin Short’s debauchery-starved dentist, if only because he looks the most alive he’s been in years. As both director and writer, Anderson handles the madness with his usual grounded-yet-elevated style, which hasn’t failed to impress this reviewer as of yet with his eclectic filmography.

Put it this way: with Inherent Vice, Anderson has made his unofficial version of The Big Lebowski, only with a protagonist more stoned than The Dude and a much more complicated plot (and when you’re more complicated than the Coen Brothers, that’s something of a sign).


Inherent Vice may have the mother of all complicated plots that make it difficult for the impatient audience member to get behind, but Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel is both rich in visual prowess and admirable in just how far it takes its strange, oddball world and characters.