Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest is his most bizarre film yet.
Inherent Vice is one of those movies we all thought would never be made. There’s been news of Anderson wanting to adapt Thomas Pynchon’s famous novel for years, but with having never had any of his other works made into films, it seemed like it was just a pipe dream. Yet now, many years later, it’s out and I’ve seen it. Having been a longtime fan P.T. Anderson – put a gun to my head and Magnolia would be my all-time favorite film – I was really excited to see his dive into what a lot of people have been calling a “stoner comedy”.
In the film Joaquin Phoenix plays Doc, a drugged out private investigator, whose ex-girlfriend, Shasta (played by Katherine Waterson), approaches him with a bit of a predicament. Her new boyfriend’s wife and lover are plotting to pull a fast one on him, and Shasta has been asked to be involved. Conflicted by whether she loves the man, feels bad about the plan, or maybe even wants the money, Shasta asks Doc to check it out. Naturally he does, and it soon becomes more complicated than everything seemed. A lot more complicated. Don’t see this film if you’re tired, looking to kill time, or even in a bad mood – it requires every moment of your attention to track the numerous characters, plot lines, and drug trips.
Inherent Vice is very much and very not much an Anderson film, all at the same time. If you’ve seen any of his other works, they have a certain feel to them, and tend to be instantly recognizable, just like a film from Wes Anderson or Edgar Wright – they have a unique visual flair and taste to the dialogue that only specific filmmakers have. Vice has this flair, but at the same time brings something unaccustomed to a typical P.T. film – a wandering focus. Embracing it’s stoner core, Inherent Vice frequently walks the line between progressing the complicated and tightly knit plot to completely distracting it’s audience with slapstick humor and tangential discussions. Thankfully it all ties together, eventually, over the course of it’s near 2 1/2 hour running time.
Joaquin Phoenix leads the film, commanding almost every second of screen time, and does so with excellence. He never breaks his stoner stupor, embracing every element from casual giggle sessions to slapstick comedy. It’s something new to P.T. Anderson films and pulled off surely by Phoenix. The rest of that cast is just as wonderful, even if the list of members is near endless. Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Benicio del Toro, Jena Malone, Josh Brolin, Michael K. Williams, and more appear throughout the film. Even Martin Short pops up for a brief, but memorable series of events.
Inherent Vice, like many Paul Thomas Anderson films, will require additional viewings before I can cast long-term judgement on it. It’s wall to wall with dialogue and moments to absorb. That being said, upon a first viewing, it might be my least favorite of his films, which still means it’s better than 90% of the films made. Vice is most definitely an interesting film, or experiment, but simply didn’t capture me the way Magnolia, Boogie Nights, or There Will Be Blood did.