Movie Review: Inherent Vice
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Katherine Waterston, Josh Brolin, Joanna Newsom, Jena Malone, Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro, Reese Witherspoon, Eric Roberts, Hong Chau, Martin Short
Rated R for drug use throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some violence, 148 minutes, Crime/Drama/Comedy
Compare to: Boogie Nights (1997), The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)
You’ve got to give it to writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson. At this point, I think I could just watch one of his movies and know it was his before being told. Long shots that take you an entire minute to realize that man, this hasn’t changed from the time it started! While the story doesn’t take a backseat necessarily (I’ll get to that), the best way to enjoy Vice is by reminding yourself that these people are acting and none of it is real.
Why would you do that? Because everything and everyone are so natural in their roles that not knowing Joaquin Phoenix is a well established actor might may think Anderson really did go back in time to cast a hippie for the part.
Larry “Doc” Sportello is a hippie private eye in the groovy era of the early 1970s and takes full advantage of the liberties the period is known for. And when Doc’s ex shows up at his door like the stoner version of every classic noir story, things get complicated. Shasta tells Doc of the complicated plot her boyfriend’s wife and her boyfriend are plotting to have him thrown in a mental institution. From the nicest hippie to the filthiest politician, it seems everybody has something to gain from this venture and Doc is more or less intent on finding out how.
As I said, you really can get lost in the whole spectacle of it all. For those who didn’t live in the times and there’s nothing nostalgic about it, the setting, lingo, clothes, etc., all seem like a different world and one that doesn’t take long to settle in to the type of characters we’re dealing with, most of them hippies. It’s not just a matter of playing the most popular song from that time period with director Anderson but finding the perfect song you might not have known lest ye be a connoisseur.
Joaquin Phoenix does a great job as the detective that spends his entire life high and shows no signs of coming down just because he’s on a case that’s growing increasingly unstable with each passing scene. At times you want to shake him and tell him to focus and enunciate but this is the character of Doc; a lazy pothead with insights into the world he involves himself in but that doesn’t mean he has to change. Phoenix does such a great job it makes me wonder how much “research” he did for the role.
Josh Brolin also does great doing what he does when playing an authoritarian. Buzz cut, suited up and armed with a permanent scowl, his casting as Detective Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen is at times the least sympathetic character for cold exterior but given his situation, being surrounded by people large groups of the exact kind of people he hates. Then again, maybe he shouldn’t be so hateful.
The biggest problem with this film may not be a problem for some and may ruin it for others. Each scene seems so involved with that moment that it can often be hard to connect the dots to how they relate or even matter. It’s like a tattoo artist focusing so much on a specific part of his tattoo that it can look disproportionate by the final result.
So the feeling while watching it may be that you have no idea what’s going on and maybe you won’t. In that case, don’t expect the end to wrap up nicely and neatly, but fuzzily and unresolved. I wouldn’t tell somebody a particular way that makes a movie great or what they can or can’t like, but less convoluted the better still.
Positives: Costume, performances, music, cinematography are all amazing. It doesn’t get any better given the story.
Negatives: The story seems to follow the pacing of the book it was based on (presumably) and can leave you a bit confused for the majority of the two hour and a half hour run time.