“Inherent Vice” Movie Review


     Filled with literally dozens of unique and interesting characters, director Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” may be the first and only film of its kind in which the narrative seems as though every scene was dropped into a blender and mixed together in a way that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but is nonetheless appealing.  I can imagine Anderson sitting in the editing room, looking at the endless material he had shot, and thinking as he analyzed every scene that each was just too good to end up on the cutting room floor.  Even scenes that have absolutely nothing to do with what we perceive as being the story are worthy just because these characters are so well drawn out, you feel as though you want to know every little detail as if the film is just one big gossip session.  “Inherent Vice” won’t have the same effect on everyone who sees it and while some will likely hate the film, others will appreciate the fact Anderson has effectively recreated the early 1970s, as well as the trends and culture of the different types of people and what they were doing on a day to day basis during that era.

     Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is a hippy styled private eye who lives in a small apartment along the Los Angeles coast and spends his days primarily lying on his couch and smoking pot.  His use of the drug during the film is so frequent and in your face that audience members may feel as though they are leaving their viewing with a contact high.  Doc has that prototypical look of a pot smoking laid back free spirit the 1970s were famous for.  He gets around in olive green military jackets, brown cords, and sandals and we’re told by several he hangs out with that he doesn’t smell very good.  His hair is long and greasy looking.  His sideburns have grown near his chin and have the appearance of an unkept beard.  And his feet, as we are shown several times, are always black and crusty.  Needless to say, he’s a piece of work and he doesn’t seem to have a care in the world.

     That’s until his ex girlfriend, Shasta (Katherine Waterston), walks into his apartment one night unannounced and asks him for help.  She tells Doc of a plot where a billionaire real estate tycoon, Michael Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), of which she is his mistress, is in danger of being purposely committed to a mental institution by his wife, Sloane Wolfmann (Serena Scott Thomas) and her lover in an attempt to acquire his money and assets.  Problem is, the wife knows about Shasta and wants her help for the plan.  Shasta then disappears, but Doc goes to work on the case anyway, which allows him to cross paths with a plethora of different characters and personalities.  At this point in the film, I think most people will be following along just fine, but as Doc moves forward, he finds himself involved in a number of other zig zagging (pun intended) plot twists that don’t always make a lot of sense.  Even those who love to have to figure out plot mysteries, rather than have their intelligence insulted with everything explained to them by films end, may have a difficult time discerning how certain characters and several scenes figure into the big picture.  After viewing the film, my guess is they don’t and aren’t meant to.  Many scenes merely function as a means of further establishing certain characters and don’t effect the case that Doc is working at all.  Or perhaps with the story being told through the eyes of Doc, much of what we see is through the thick fog and haze of his drug habit since he frequently makes unintelligible entries into a pocket notebook like “Paranoia” and “Hallucinating”. 

     One of the film’s central characters is also one of the most enjoyable from an entertainment standpoint.  Detective Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin) of the LAPD Robbery Homicide Division is extremely familiar with Doc from past run ins.  They supposedly share a mutual respect for one another.  He is also Doc’s go to when his cases become a little too much for him to handle.  He’s described as the hard nosed cop with a flat top and a SAG card, looking for his next civil rights violation.  In his spare time, Bigfoot moonlights as an actor with bit roles in TV series like “Adam-12” and appearing in commercials, namely as the pitchman for a real estate development  that is being financed by, you guessed it, Michael Wolfmann (Bigfoot is near unrecognizable in the commercial due to him wearing a massive afro wig).  Ultimately, this leads to Doc and Bigfoot working together throughout, which is where we learn through a recurring joke that Bigfoot is addicted to chocolate covered bananas and his way of consuming them is shall I say, kinda sexual.

     The duo seem to move from one scene to the next, each time coming into contact with all sorts of different people who may or may not prove to be important at all.  Notables include Doc’s lawyer Sauncho Smilax (Benicio Del Toro), Doc’s District Attorney girlfriend Penny Kimball (Resse Witherspoon), Hope Harlingen (Jena Malone) who hires Doc to find her husband, Coy Harlingen (Owen Wilson) who seems to be some how intertwined with the Wolfmann case, and a hit man named Puck Beaverton (Keith Jardine) who features a swastika tattooed upon his right cheek.  The writing by Anderson, adapted from Thomas Pynchon’s novel, ensures all of these characters have an authenticity about them that makes them seems as though they are real people.  This, combined with Anderson’s visual style and a stellar production design allow the characters who populate this film to really exude the style and vibe of a time when life seemed so much more simple and yet Doc and Bigfoot find themselves involved in a web so complex even they don’t know what’s in store for them next.  “Inherent Vice” has several of the elements necessary for a great film, but it’s also missing many that are crucial.  I’m convinced, based on his previous work (“Boogie Nights”, “The Master”),  this was all by design.  GRADE: B