Coming from a huge Paul Thomas Anderson fan, Inherent Vice left me with sheer disappointment.
Now, this film is far from a disaster, but coming from the same director that brought us Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood and The Master, my expectations were extremely high … maybe too high. PTA decided to tackle Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 stoner noir novel and turn it into a big screen adaption. Pynchon is known for his dense and complex novels, which can be difficult to translate to film, but that didn’t stop PTA. The problem was not the film itself, but the loss of PTA’s artistic skill set. We have all come to know him for his bold character studies, layered imagery and potent emotional depth. When you watch a PTA film, you don’t just watch it for pleasure but to emotionally move you.
His films shake you to your core and make you examine your own life. I could spend hours on end watching PTA films from the past trying to dissect them piece-by-piece. His films will leave you numb by then end and that is something only true raw power can do. Sadly, I did not have that same emotion after seeing Inherent Vice. But Pynchon fans will eat this film up like pot brownies. Besides the infuriating script, the cast (Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro and Martin Short) is stellar. It’s Los Angeles, 1970 and PTA throws us right into the midst and chaos of private eye hippie, Doc Sportello (Phoenix). But when Doc’s former girlfriend, Shasta Fay Hepworth (Waterston), shows up in trouble the plot thickens. Shasta is currently involved with a mysterious businessman, Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), and needs Doc’s help to prevent a love triangle between Mickey’s wife and wife’s lover.
Doc is so stoned that he agrees to help but ends up getting caught in a rabbit hole of mix-ups and mayhems. Doc’s adventure leads him to Nazi-bikers, stoners, prostitutes, crack-head dentist and the unknown corporation called, Golden Fang. Time to pile on the characters, there’s the missing musician (Wilson) with his junkie wife (Jenna Malone), a coke-addict dentist (Short), an assistant D.A. (Witherspoon), a best friend lawyer (Del Toro) and a muscle head cop, Bigfoot Bjornsen (Brolin). Out of all the characters, Brolin is the best one. Sailing high and mighty as the badass in-your-face cop, Brolin is on fire.
But by the end of this stoner film, I didn’t feel the same piazza as I did in previous PTA films. PTA stayed true to Pynchon's novel but looses his artistic touch in the long run. Inherent Vice is at times frustrating and other times a hilarious disarray of a film. It’s PTA’s first film that never fully broke away, which was disappointing. But Pynchon fans will have a blast with this trippy ride, as for PTA fans, have no fear the master still has more future cards up his sleeves. Inherent Vice is a film one can’t fully comprehend, so just lay back with Doc and let the drugs kick in …
Inherent Vice is rated R (Restricted). For drug use throughout, sexual content, graphic nudity, language and some violence.