According to wikipedia, the phrase “Inherent Vice” refers to the hidden defect (or the very nature) of a physical object that causes it to deteriorate because of the fundamental instability of its very components. The phrase is also the title of a book written by Thomas Pynchon which has been currently adapted to the screen and directed by Academy Award nominated director Paul Thomas Anderson.
In 1970 Los Angeles, circa the arrest and trial of the Manson family, a mutton-chopped pothead/private-eye named Doc Sportello, played by Academy Award nominee Joaquin Phoenix, is visited by his ex-girlfriend Shasta, played by Katherine Waterston, who offers him a possible case. Shasta’s boyfriend, a real-estate tycoon named Micky Wolfman, played by Academy Award nominee Eric Roberts, could be in some trouble because Wolfman’s wife, played by Serena Scott Thomas, and her lover are hatching a plan to throw Wolfman in the loony-bin to prevent some kind of remorseful philanthropic real-estate project Wolfman is cooking up and Shasta fears for her new man’s safety, so Doc decides to look into the matter.
The case, and Inherent Vice in general, is a trippy and far out ride that takes a serious degree of concentration to navigate through all of the marijuana and sexual innuendo in an atmosphere of Nazi’s, Oriental drug trafficking, Federal Agents and flatfoots and features a truly diverse cast of actors including Academy Award winners Benecio Del Toro and Reese Witherspoon, Academy Award nominees Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson and Jeannie Berlin as well as Jena Malone, Joanna Newsome providing the soft-spoken yet somehow 70s narration as Sortilège, Maya Rudolph, Martin Dew, Hong Chau, Sasha Pieterse and Michael Kenneth Williams.
Where Inherent Vice succeeds should begin with Paul Thomas Anderson, who once again demonstrates that he can do justice by grounding his films with as much authenticity as possible. The atmosphere and overall tone of the feature suggests that this movie wants to be as vintage 1970s as possible with the clothes, the music, the entire mise-en-scene is totally legit.
The acting is also a high-point of the film. Joaquin Phoenix lives up to the reputation and standard that he has certainly made for himself throughout his career; an actor who can totally assimilate into his role and he has such a charisma to him that just livens up the scene he shares with anyone, including Waterston’s Shasta, Witherspoon, who plays his D.A. girlfriend Penny, Del Toro as Doc’s attorney Sauncho Smilax and especially Brolin’s Bigfoot Bjornsen, who is hands-down the best performer in the feature aside from Phoenix.
Inherent Vice isn’t exactly a film with a lot of high points to be honest. Robert Elswit’s cinematography is rather peculiar and it detracts from the overall visual aesthetic of the film; the use of the slow tracking shot, I feel is rather overdone and he doesn’t even bother using the full frame throughout the film and that is rather perplexing to say the least.
Once again, I use the term perplexing but apply it to the narrative of the film. I haven’t read Pynchon’s novel, but from what I understand Anderson did stay faithful to the material, but if he wanted this to be as complex and as out-there of an experience as possible, than Anderson succeeded to a great degree of difficulty. I found this film to be difficult to follow, but once the pieces fell into place and the film had a plot to follow, I understood the overall gist of the plot.
I have to give credit towards Amy Wells and Mark Bridges. The art direction and set decoration was beautiful in my eyes. I don’t know why I’m fascinated with 1970s culture, but this film was entirely fascinating to me and I was just drawn to it somehow.
Is Inherent Vice Paul Thomas Anderson’s best picture? I would say no, but I will say that this is an enjoyable piece compared to his last film, The Master.
Is Inherent Vice one of the best films of the year? Again, I say no because I feel that this film doesn’t take the steps necessary to be counted among the best films of the year. It isn’t worthy of being in the same class as some of the elite films of 2014 and I use the term elite loosely, because I don’t believe that the films of this year are as good as last year.
Inherent Vice is one of the most fascinating and entertaining films of the year though because of its great acting cast and performances, its vintage 70s aura and the fact that Anderson could have done justice toward the book, which should appease fans. I’m not in any particular rush to see it again soon, but it’s very trippy for a cinematic experience and though it isn’t exactly perfect, it is worth respecting.