Far out, man! I mean, like, this is a groovy film, man!
Set in Los Angeles in 1970, Inherent Vice tells the outrageously bizarre and wildly funny tale of Larry “Doc” Sportello, a P.I. who gets in way over his head when his ex-girlfriend asks him to investigate a possible abduction of her boss/lover, Micky Wolfman, a huge real estate developer. When his ex disappears the next day, Doc smokes a few joints, sniffs some gas (his office is in a dentist’s office) and gets to work. Think Chinatown on drugs and you’ll be in the right genre. Indeed, I suspect that Inherent Vice is best enjoyed stoned, the way Doc spends every day of his life.
Paul Thomas Anderson is a unique and fascinating director who has never filmed the same genre twice and has never made a film I didn’t like. Inherent Vice is based on the 2009 novel by Thomas Pynchon, which I happened to read a few years ago. It was a fun read and it’s a fun film, though most definitely not for all tastes (i.e. if you have any doubts about whether this is for you, stay away). Anderson was able to capture the feel of the novel, as well as the feel of the time and place, very well, though I missed some of the more philosophical musings I enjoyed in the novel.
Doc is played by Joaquin Phoenix, who seems perfectly cast and does a tremendous job, as does Josh Brolin as the disturbed and disturbing police detective (Bigfoot) who is always on his case. Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro and Reese Witherspoon are also along for the ride and they’re all hilarious in their roles. But Inherent Vice is about Doc, one of those characters you just have to love, though this is not to say that I admire his lifestyle (there are few lifestyles I would admire less).
Inherent Vice isn’t perfect. It’s too long (there are a number of scenes it could have done nicely without) and the pieces don’t come together as well as they should. But then again, the chaos is part of its charm and I think this colorful film noir is meant to be experienced more as a drug trip than a coherent narrative. ***+. My mug is up.