Inherent Vice (2014)
Inherent Vice (2014)

Genre: Crime Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 28 min.

Release Date: December 12th, 2014 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson Actors: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Katherine Waterston, Jena Malone, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro, Sasha Pieterse, Eric Roberts, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, Yvette Yates




n Gordita Beach, California, in 1970, Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston) visits old friend and former fling Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), a private investigator, to ask for help. Shasta’s interested in making off with a fortune from the man she’s seeing – Michael “Mickey” Z. Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), a powerful, wealthy, eccentric, and drug-addicted Los Angeles real estate developer. His wife Sloane (Serena Scott Thomas) and her boyfriend/spiritual advisor Riggs Warbling, along with Shasta, want to commit him to a loony bin. Doc begins digging up information on Wolfmann, discovering that he likes to surround himself with an Aryan Brotherhood biker gang entourage. The following morning, prison militant Tariq Khalil (Michael K. Williams) of the Black Guerilla Family gang hires Doc to do some snooping for him as well, also concerning a white supremacist, named Glenn Charlock (Christopher Allen Nelson).

After visiting a massage parlor to look for Glenn, Doc is knocked out and wakes up next to the Nazi’s dead body. Lieutenant Detective Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin) is at the scene, quick to assume the worst of Doc. But marine lawyer Sauncho Smilax (Benicio Del Toro) gets the flatfoot promptly released. However, both Wolfmann and Shasta have vanished. To complicate matters even more, Hope Harlingen (Jena Malone) calls up Doc to investigate the death of her husband Coy (Owen Wilson), who she believes is merely missing. Following the FBI’s interrogation of the sleuth, Doc’s district attorney contact Penny Kimball (Reese Witherspoon) is unable to feed him additional information, prostitute Jade (Hong Chau) warns of a bald-headed thug named Puck Beaverton (Keith Jardine), the unmentionable Golden Fang junk makes an appearance, and Coy turns up alive and with a list of names requiring probing. Doc’s interconnected cases continue to become impossibly thicker.

In actuality, the mystery is so convoluted and overstuffed with characters and details that it’s difficult to follow; it’s a whodunit not worth solving. Conversations are frequent, executed with leisurely brooding, and brimming with slang, rumors, and tongue-twister names – delivering potential red herrings, misinformation, and extra people and locations in need of analyzation. With a two-and-a-half-hour running time, the film includes far too many roles (every scene seems to introduce new characters) and additives, even though the personas are amusingly eccentric and the accomplished cast largely recognizable. It’s as if a circuitous thriller worthy of a mini-series was crammed into a single movie – and the pacing isn’t sped up to accommodate all the unveiled secrets and elaborate clues.

The film draws on “L.A. Confidential” for its complexity; “The Big Lebowski” for its tone, superfluous particulars, delivery of frank sexual dialogue tinged with inescapable humor, and Phoenix’ devil-may-car attitude (and hippie attire, carefree grooming, unkempt hair, and routinely blank stares); and “Chinatown” for the seedy establishments, strange inhabitants, lingering paranoia, and perspective of the lead character perpetually on the outside of the case. Drugs, grass, booze, and cigarettes also help the atmosphere of hazy happenings and random, nearly hallucinogenic encounters. But the originality of “Inherent Vice” remains largely intangible, unable to find a voice of its own amid the plentiful derivative devices in play.

A voiceover narration by Sortilige (Joanna Newsom), Doc’s friend, imparts an obvious film noir vibe, though the character is entirely unnecessary and has very little screentime. When one bit part, Japonica Fenway (Sasha Pieterse), has her family described as leading lives of high density and incoherence, it unintentionally sums up a major motif – that of nonsensical disjointedness to make a plain murder mystery appear more tangled and involving. Even during a moment of gunplay or a climactic smack handoff, the film can’t muster a strong sense of uniqueness or creativity. Director Paul Thomas Anderson certainly deserves credit for continuing to tackle different genres and diverse stories (here, adapting the popular Thomas Pynchon novel), but this meandering venture noticeably lacks the poignancy and gravity of his previous efforts.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10