Inherent Vice (Review)

An addictive cocktail of dialogue, color, and eccentric characters

by Kristina Aiad-Toss

In an extremely raw and ingeniously executed film, the critically-acclaimed director, Paul Thomas Anderson has created Inherent Vice, a movie that perfectly portrays the compulsive "sex, drugs and rock n roll" infused nineteen seventies. Audiences must succumb to the outlandish but invigorating story of Los Angeles private investigator and self-proclaimed hippie, Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), as he attempts to solve the mysterious disappearance of his former girlfriend. Lying somewhere at the crossroads between a '70s neo-noir film and a stoner comedy, this story is two-and-a-half hours of psychedelic havoc. The final product is bewildering, anarchic, and captivating in its amorphous plotting and paranoid atmosphere.

From the first frame, the film’s aim is obvious, persisting with a constant tempo until the end. This psychedelic trip of a movie, takes audiences on a bizarre and interesting journey spotted with goofy moments and unusual occurrences. Much like Doc’s mind when he is stoned, the film is fragmented with many of his adventures seeming random and episodic. As he encounters neo-Nazi gang bangers, black gang bangers, sleazy drug importing dentists, corrupt FBI and police officials, the plot becomes complex, scattered, and too detailed to follow. Although many critics will dislike the film for this reason, the disconnected plot is purely intentional as a device to manipulate the viewer’s attention.

Inherent Vice
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson
Release Date 9 January 2015
Kristina's Grade: A

Just as Doc has trouble remembering his experiences, viewers are left unable to connect the story, but now must focus on a few powerful scenes, skillfully designed sets, the wonderful music, stunning cinematography, an eclectic cast, and Joaquin Phoenix's legendary performance. Anderson manages to capture the mood of L.A. in an earthy, yet naive glow through excellent, thought-provoking dialogue, exceptional cinematography and an diversified yet cohesive score. With the well though out script, Anderson creates an underlying theme of clashing sides of American culture in the 1960s-1970s transition, without allowing the deeper cultural aspects to take away from the main narrative.

The real accomplishment of the screenplay is how tangled and foggy the plot becomes, even though it is seemingly one scene of dialogue following another. Inherent Vice’s spiraling script also captivates the audience as it combines commonplace vernacular of typical stoners with deep philosophical meanderings. In addition, the often poetic and occasionally surreal, omniscient female narrator was the glue holding together this movie, smoothly guiding the transitions between scenes. Jonny Greenwood, as the composer, compiles a score that is composed of noir-fashioned and psychedelic sounds of the music scenes of the early Sixties and Seventies.

The soundtrack augments the emotional depth of the romantic experiences between Doc and the women in his life. Combined with the music, Robert Elswit's excellent cinematography succeeds in capturing the strange trip into the drug-fueled world of Doc Sportello. The visuals are colorful, yet pale, gritty, and somewhat restrained, as Anderson applies his hallmarks in curious and atypical ways. The movie’s unflinching and sporadic feel is synthesize from the long takes that partially follow the action, but often stay nearly static on a long conversation. This immersive approach draws the audience to become invested in the performances of the characters. Through the persistent fog of drugs and alcohol, Doc meets cavalcade of eccentric and exceptionally created characters.

Joaquin Phoenix gives a nuanced and noteworthy performance as the anti-hero private eye, eliciting a strong sense of unity in the film. Phoenix drives the film’s appeal portraying his character’s idiosyncrasy with a relaxed and stoned approach, while not making Sportello into a stereotypical drug-addicted hippie. In strong supporting portrayal, Josh Brolin acting as “Bigfoot” is brilliantly comedic and tragic as his character is more interested in busting Doc and becoming an actor than he is about law enforcement. As Doc's former girlfriend Shasta, Katherine Waterston gives a remarkable performance, showing erotic intensity that is both sympathetic and mysterious. The supporting players, including Martin Short, Reese Witherspoon, and Owen Wilson, also contribute powerful and memorable depictions of their characters in the little screen time they are given. Overall, Inherent Vice may seem enigmatic to some, and distant to others, but is ultimately tremendously worthwhile to the individuals can appreciate the film’s divergent originality and cleverly-devised artistic genius.


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