Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Screenplay based on the novel by: Thomas Pynchon
Screenplay by: Paul Thomas Anderson
As a disclaimer to this review, I’ve never read any Thomas Pynchon novels, though I understand that his style tends to be purposefully opaque. This factors into my review in important ways to be discussed later.
The story of Inherent Vice follows Doc (Joaquin Phoenix) a PI who takes on a case for his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterson). She starts him on a strange case in which a real estate mogul is potentially being set-up to have all of his money stolen by his wife, while he receives treatment in a mental care facility. The case takes strange turns as nearly everyone Doc runs into is engrossed in the same sort of world he is, one of low-lifes, drugs, and random occurrences, and in an environment in which everyone, including Doc, may or may not be tripping too hard to know what exactly is really happening and what might be a strange delusion. Insert Bigfoot (Josh Brolin) a police chief who is both accosting and cooperating with Doc to track down the links of an Aryan Brotherhood to the fraud against the real estate mogul, and you have a good idea of what to expect from Inherent Vice.
Which is not to suggest that anything in the film is normal. For anyone who saw Anderson’s previous film, The Master, the level of plot complications and the potential for asking whether anything that’s happening to protagonist is real or not exists almost in the core of the text. Unlike the majority of films that delve into the world of drugs, here everyone seems to be on what they’ve come into contact with, or if they aren’t, they’re somehow involved. And at what level and points these people are connected is difficult to ascertain.
As a viewer the film does not offer a direct through line of plot. For a long time each scene seemed to present a new character with a new plot or a new mystery for Doc to then go chasing down in ways that felt unconnected, and yet there were points where everything was supposed to make sense, but perhaps didn’t. And perhaps that’s the point that Inherent Vice is shooting for, maybe Doc, at the end of the day, is running around delusionally trying to connect every person and conversation he has into a plot that’s huge, but doesn’t actually exist.
The highlights of the film are when it goes off the wall. A short scene of a drug trip including Martin Short is hilarious and tense. An extended erotic sequence between Phoenix and Waterson in which contact and sex is what ruins the atmosphere instead of creating it is especially noteworthy.
Overall, if you are a fan of Anderson’s works, this film is worth seeing. Whether for its literary nature, or its opaque plotline, however, I cannot entirely judge in terms of other films. I don’t think I’ve seen a movie quite as successfully entertaining while at the same time feeling like I just needed a little more rope to understand what was going on. And that’s coming from a guy who enjoys Terence Malick films.