Posted by: ckckred | August 19, 2015

Inherent Vice


Out of all the films I saw in 2014, Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest, is the trickiest to boil down. When watching the picture in theaters back in December, by midway through the movie it appeared that half the audience had left the auditorium. Paul Thomas Anderson is no stranger in creating decisive films; back in 2012, I similarly remember viewers grumbling after seeing The Master. Yet Inherent Vice is arguably Anderson’s most polarizing yet, creating a divide between the director’s fans and his diehards.

As someone who considers himself in the latter category, I found Inherent Vice to be a thrilling journey, if one that requires viewers to be attentive as well as have previous knowledge of Thomas Pynchon’s source material. Anderson’s direction has changed since Hard Eight, from the Scorsese/Altman worship of Boogie Nights and Magnolia to the more distinct, brutally cold feel of There Will Be Blood and The Master. Inherent Vice continues Anderson’s use of dreamy surrealism though its bizarre humor and its 70s setting also recalls the party-heavy vibe of Boogie Nights. But Inherent Vice is a completely unique film; while its closest companion is the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski, sharing a hippie protagonist and a Ray Chandler-esque story, Inherent Vice is completely different from that picture and is unlike any other movie I’ve seen before.

Set on the fringe between the 60s and 70s in Los Angeles, Inherent Vice focuses on Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), a private detective who wishes nothing more than to spend time at home and smoke a joint. But after his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston) asks him to locate her boyfriend Mickey Wolfman (Eric Roberts), a real estate developer, Doc finds himself wrapped in conspiracy after conspiracy that involves the Aryan brotherhood, a missing saxophonist, and a menacing organization that may or may not be a group of dentists trying to evade the tax code, all while establishing an uneasy alliance with stern cop Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), whose hatred of hippies is often a problem for Doc.

With its dense plot, Inherent Vice becomes an increasingly difficult movie to crack so much so that even missing one single detail can derail your understanding of the story. Yet Anderson’s rich ensemble of characters and layering of mysteries makes Vice thoroughly enjoyable that even when I was lost in the film’s overarching storyline I had a great appreciation of what the movie was doing. Mish-mashing Zucker-esque slapstick gags with chilling violence, Inherent Vice often interchanges its tone from humor to horror, representing the era’s growing counter-culture as well as the uneasiness brought by figures such as Charlie Manson. Doc acts as a figurehead for the viewers as a man lost in a sea of hippie-idealism and brutal reality. Though Joanna Newsome’s narration provides some outlook for Vice, Doc’s journey represents the cultural arc between the 60s and 70s.

Though I’ve only seen Inherent Vice once, within the past eight months I’ve only come to appreciate the film even more. Even though it may not be as initially awarding as Anderson’s best movies like Magnolia or There Will Be Blood, Inherent Vice is a picture that stays with you, whose haunting depiction of American counter-culture acts as a bygone for a lost world.


  1. I hadn’t read the book before seeing the movie, but loved it so much that I went back and read Pynchon’s text. Oddly enough, I don’t think I could have gotten through the book without having seen the movie and knowing in some general sense where it was all going. Then I went back and understood the movie so much more because I had time to really soak in the story on paper and thus pay more attention to other things. So, long story short, I’d recommend reading the book before you give it another go!

    • I read the book after seeing the movie, which really helped me understand and appreciate the film more. I want to see it again now to see if I react differently.

      • I think it would, certainly did for me! Sorry if you wrote that you had read the book and I just totally missed it.

  2. Cool review. I know we have spoken about PT Anderson before but he just keeps the quality so high it’s always worth mentioning. Brilliant director. I think this will, in time, be seen as one of the best films of the year (I liked stuff like Birdman but it’s very much a grab-your-attention film rather than a slow burner like this or A Most Violent Year).

    • Thanks man. PTA doesn’t have a bad movie in his filmography and Inherent Vice was a great picture in my mind.

  3. Sounds particularly interesting.

  4. I was so intrigued by this when I first saw the trailer but somehow I haven’t got around to seeing Inherent Vice. But I still might at some point, as I quite like the cast and it looks pretty funny.

    • I definitely recommend it. Have you seen any of PTA’s other films? I’d recommend checking them out before seeing Inherent Vice; though I loved it, it’s his least accessible picture.

      • Actually no. I have a huge blindspot when it comes to PTA, but I’m most curious about Magnolia. Hope to get to that by year’s end.

      • Magnolia in my opinion is PTA’s best movie, though I’d recommend checking out Boogie Nights or There Will Be Blood first.

  5. Great review Ck. It’s a trademark of PTA that viewers benefit from multiple viewings of the same picture. But even after seeing the sprawling Magnolia and There Will Be Blood, I have to say I find Inherent Vice most crucially needing those extra viewings. Viewings I still haven’t given it. It is such a labyrinthian plot, and there are so many unusual characters that it’s tough to focus on any one thing. I loved that about it. Can’t wait to go back and watch it again, and again. And then probably again.

    • Thanks man. This is definitely a film that deserves multiple viewings to fully appreciate (though after reading the book I valued Inherent Vice even more). PTA is one of the few directors who lacks a blight in their filmography.

  6. Great review, Charles. I’m with you on this one. Many didn’t like it but I thought it was fantastic. I’ve seen it twice now and even though it’s still hard to get, I think that’s the whole point. We’re not supposed to fully understand it just like Doc himself. This is an ambitious piece of work from Anderson and I think over time it will get the appreciation it deserves.

    • Thanks Mark. It was difficult to follow the plot on my first viewing, though after I read the book I appreciated Inherent Vice even more. I’m not sure if I would put it on par with Magnolia or There Will Be Blood, but I’m confident Inherent Vice is a great picture.

      • Yeah, I reckon The Master is his best work but Blood, Magnolia and Boogie Nights are tough acts to beat as well. Like you say, though. It’s a great film and better on a second viewing because you can relax into it a bit more.

      • PTA is one of the only directors I can think of who hasn’t made a film short of greatness. His movies aren’t for everyone, but he creates the most intelligent, ambitious pictures of current cinema.

  7. Interesting read mate. I also consider myself in the latter category, and I simply loved everything about this film. Reading this makes me want to watch it right now, everything you said is how I feel about it. It really is like no other movie, its like Chinatown gone Gonzo. And that was another part I liked, I thought it really had a Hunter S Thompson vibe all the way through, the end of the counter-culture, death of the American Dream etc. I felt a definite connection.

    I also have a theory on his friend who narrates. From what I remember, and I could be very wrong, she only talks to him and no one else talks to her. I think she is a consistent hallucination from Doc’s weed-smoking. Granted, you’d need A LOT of grass for that to happen, but hey, it is based in the 60’s 😉

    I like your writing mate, I hope to see some new posts in the future. As for now I think I shall explore your archives a bit 🙂

    • Thanks man. I’ve got some posts in the work (a top 10 list of 2015 films and film reviews of Crimson Peak, Ex Machina, and The Martian), but I’m a little slow on getting the work done.

      Inherent Vice is a lot like Boogie Nights in its exploration of counter-culture, though it’s certainly a more subdued and surreal picture. I hadn’t thought about the aspect about the narrator, I really need to see this again to get a stronger impression of the plot, especially after reading the book.

      • I’m still working my way through the book. Its even crazier than the movie!

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