Inherent Vice—Movie Review

Inherent Vice-Martin Short, Joaquin Phoenix, Jordan Christian Hearn, Sasha PieterseIt would be foolish to expect a straightforward storyline,
or even narrative coherence, from an adaptation of a novel by the often-impenetrable
Thomas Pynchon. Paul Thomas Anderson can be commended for making the effort,
but I’m not so sure about the results.

From the opening narration (by a female character we haven’t
met) onward, there is a self-consciousness to Inherent Vice that I found off-putting.  Anderson immerses us in the ultra-casual,
druggie world of the protagonist, a hippie-ish private eye named Doc who lives
in a Southern California beach community in 1970. When his ex-girlfriend shows
up, asking for help on behalf of her current lover (a real estate mogul who’s
being targeted by his duplicitous wife) he agrees to see what he can learn. The
story becomes more dense with every step he takes. As he investigates we find malice
behind the sleaze, steaminess behind the corruption, and more corruption behind
the ugliness.

Joaquin Phoenix-Josh Brolin

There is no shortage of colorful characters in this long,
serpentine story, including a musician who has gone undercover in the
counter-culture (Owen Wilson), a self-styled bad-ass cop (Josh Brolin), a
spacey dentist who’s running a bizarre business front (Martin Short), etc. Other
supporting roles are well played by Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Jena
Malone, Maya Rudolph, and Eric Roberts, among others. Katherine Waterston makes
a strong impression as Doc’s former “old lady.”

Anderson succeeds, as he usually does, in creating a world
all its own, rich in atmosphere and detail, but it’s a relentlessly unpleasant environment
where there are no good guys. Joaquin
Phoenix holds the film together, as much as anyone could, with his amusing
performance as Doc, a guy who doesn’t take himself or anything else around him
too seriously.

I’m aware that some critics have already called this a
brilliant film and said that the surface story is beside the point. I wish I
could be more like Doc and simply let it wash over me, like a drug-hazed dream,
but I’ve seen the movie twice, it still leaves me cold.



  1. Jeffrey says:

    I have seen this film twice as well, and a couple of things Mr. Maltin has said deserve a response. His theory that this film is self-conscious (a peculiar description, to say the least) suggests that the story lost him from the outset. Not being able to relate to a film or understand it? Sometimes that is the rub. Furthermore, his idea that this is story has no virtuous figures rings hollow with me; I found this film hard not to like. I also disagree with the implication that this film isn’t faithful to its source material. Many critics disagree, in fact.

  2. mike schlesinger says:

    I see it as sort of the sex-drugs-rock&roll version of THE BIG SLEEP. Yeah, the plot doesn’t make much sense, but scene by scene I found it very entertaining, and Anderson’s penchant for really long takes and bold colors was utterly refreshing in an era of ADD editing and desaturated hues. Throw in that fabulous cast and I surrendered myself to it.

  3. Tim Ware says:

    I feel similarly about the film. I operate Thomas Pynchon dot com and, as you might suspect, am an avid reader of Pynchon’s work. Probably for that reason, I felt that the film failed to capture the spirit of "Inherent Vice" — and, like you, I applaud the effort and I feel that Joaquin’s performance helps make it as entertaining as it is. I reviewed the film, from a Pynchon fan’s perspective, on the Pynchon website.

  4. Jb says:

    Much respect for sitting through this twice.

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