What’s up, Doc?

Inherent Vice


Inherent Vice (2014) directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

By Conor Plosia

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice premiered at the 52nd New York Film Festival to a packed crowd of rain-soaked critics and industry folks.  The smoked-fueled flick will reach theaters in a limited capacity on December 12th and nationwide on January 9th.

Every film junkie knows of Mr. Anderson’s acclaimed work.  The energy of the weary waiters on a wet October morning was like nothing I’ve experienced before – it was unique even to the NYFF, which is always full of exceptional premieres (this year is no exception).  The level of anticipation for this film far exceeds any of his previous work; and with Warner Brothers producing the film, marking Mr. Anderson’s inaugural venture with a major production company.

Similar to his Anderson’s earlier work (Magnolia, Boogie Nights), Inherent Vice is an ensemble piece, featuring a star-studded cast that includes Joaquin Phoenix, Katherine Waterston, Owen Wilson, Joanna Newsom, Josh Brolin, Jena Malone, Benicio Del Toro, Reese Witherspoon, Martin Short, Maya Rudolph and Eric Roberts.  Every scene was a wild ride of comedy hijinks and dramatic tension.  The image of Hollywood stars prancing around the California scenery in vintage threads and automobiles is a delight in and of itself (the film’s period is the early 1970’s), but there’s no absence of mystery and wit wrapped inside the 35 mm film.  Joaquin Phoenix is particularly fun, absorbing personality traits from Phillip Marlowe and Hunter S. Thompson – all the while remaining contemplative and hip underneath his safari hat. 

Inherent Vice is groovy detective tale that follows Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), a hippy P.I. whose old lady Shasta Fey Hepworth (Katherine Waterson) knocks on his Gordita Beach door with a story of deception, kidnapping and a ton of money.  Doc, being a fool’s lover, embarks on a drug-fueled journey of understanding and truth, aided by an eccentric Lawyer Sauncho Smilax (Benicio Del Toro) and his far out compadre Denis (Jordan Christian Hearn).  During his travels, Doc is shoved, stomped and nearly strangled by his straight-edge cop counterpart Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin).  A slue of crazy characters and cameos surface to help Doc 

a true peace-loving dope smoker – on his journey.  He glides through the seedy California underworld with a joint in his mouth and shades covering his blood red eyes.  With the help of disguises, friendly tips and a few tricks up his stoner sleeves, Doc is seemingly prepared to overcome any obstacle. 

Unlike his previous films, Inherent Vice is based off of a Thomas Pynchon Novel of the same title.  Pynchon is revered for his fiction, he’s become pre-immortalized as a well-known recluse and is rumored have a cameo in the picture (the only problem there is no one has the faintest clue what he looks like).  Keep your eyes out for a seventy-year-old man who may or may not have a mustache.

Jonny Greenwood (of Radiohead notoriety) teamed up with Anderson once again (following There Will Be Blood and The Master) to create a beautiful score to the far-out period piece.  And the film does have an aural experiential quality to it; hearing the music of the film is an experience comparable to sitting in a smoke-filled basement with a Frank Zappa vinyl spinning on the player.  Righteous California sounds pulsating through the walls into our ears.

Anderson’s technical precision lends itself to a goofy crime satire wrapped up in a chaotic Zen-like atmosphere.  The film exists in a new place, situated between the weird and the insightful.  This leads to conversations about the universe that are closer to fart jokes in tone, and this is the genius of Inherent Vice: It’s a blend of undeniably auteur-like craftsmanship with the comedic gag work of a scallywag youth.

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