Inherent Vice – Movie Review
Inherent Vice – R
Release Date: Fri 09 Jan 2015
Director and screenplay writer Paul Thomas Anderson adapts Thomas Pynchon’s novel starring Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin and Owen Wilson. With Inherent Vice like Magnolia and Boogie Nights before it, there were people who gave up and left the theater unable to derive any sort of meaning or enjoyment from the film. Without spoilers, this review will endeavor to prepare you for Inherent Vice as a theatrical experience.
Many have compared Vice to The Big Lebowski, a similarly obtuse and hard to follow dramedy that gained a cult following. I saw that movie opening night and while there were people who said that they liked it, no one was raving about it on their first sitting or quoting it to the level that home video made it a cultural event. Similarly if you go into Inherent Vice looking for ridiculous moments you will find a few, and some of them are quite funny. The funny part of Josh Brolin’s Bigfoot ordering pancakes was pretty much shown in the trailer in its entirety.
Instead, it’s important to realize what Phoenix’s Larry “Doc” Sportello is: a way to tie the story together as a point of view that is far from omniscient and sometimes downright unreliable. This can be infuriating. He’s a private investigator, and several early scenes make it look like a single mystery is being set up that Doc will bumble his way through. The mechanations of adding additional cases, referring to older ones that he seems to remember from either before the events of the film began or off-screen make things even more complicated. While it helps that the more important characters in the overall plot are played by recognizable actors, it’s best not to try to get ahead of the film and just let it unfold in front of you.
Sportello is an interesting character. He has moments of blinding insight and knowledge, and while he spends a lot of time stoned it becomes more of a means of acceptance in the drug culture of the Nixon era. It’s his cover, not his passion. He’s an honorable man, trying to take care of everyone around him rather than selfishly being out for himself.
The film is narrated by Joanna Newsom’s Sortilège who appears sparingly in the film and seems to either know everything Sportello knows, or perhaps a bit more. I found the narration to be a bit overbearing as it jumps in and says something rather than allowing the characters and the visuals to convey the same information. However, this again is something of a fake out. If you’re hoping the narrator will clear up the action or the motivations of the story, that will let you down as well.
If you’re willing to indulge the film for its 148-minute run time, you’ll find yourself thinking about it long after. It’s the kind of film people will dissect and watch at home quite a bit once it is available and will likely have its ardent fans and those who are still just confused about why anyone would make a movie like this. If you enjoyed Anderson’s other films, particularly Magnolia (which was similarly inscrutable the first time I saw it) than it’s probably worth seeing it once on the big screen if you get the chance.
Aaron, Christian, Juliette and I saw it in the theater and had a discussion in the car: