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Josh Reviews Inherent Vice

Inherent Vice is a wonderful film, funny and engaging, a gloriously bizarre journey through a world of drugs and crime and real estate (and dentistry) in 1970’s Los Angeles.

Adapted from a novel by Thomas Pynchon (which I now desperately want to read), the film was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, one of the masters of cinema working today.  Joaquin Phoenix (who was also the star of Mr. Anderson’s last film, The Master) plays “Doc,” a druggie private eye.  One night, an ex-flame, Shasta, surprises Doc in his home and asks for his help unravelling a kidnapping plot centered on her wealthy new lover, real-estate mogul Mickey Wolfmann.  Doc agrees to help, but soon after Shasta herself disappears, and Doc finds himself sucked down a twisty rabbit hole of crosses and double-crosses.

Inherent Vice reminded me a lot of The Big Lebowski.  Both have the same balance of humor and drama, and both center on a drugged-out private eye trying to get to the bottom of a twisty mystery.  The film also has some echoes of Chinatown, in the way that a small mystery eventually sheds light on a larger plot concerning the history of Los Angeles.  But make no mistake, Inherent Vice is a wholly original creation.  It is unique and delightfully weird.

Joaquin Phoenix kills it in the title role.  He is perfect as Doc, striking exactly the right tone.  He’s hysterical, but Doc always remains a serious character with whom the audience can engage.  Mr. Phoenix gives Doc an innocence and nobility that is incredibly sweet and endearing.  Because of this, one completely roots for Doc to succeed as he tries to navigate a world of slippery, deceitful characters.  I can’t believe that Mr. Phoenix isn’t in more conversations for a 2014 best actor Oscar.  This is a fantastic role, one of the best performances of his career.

Katherine Waterston has a star-making performance as Shasta.  She actually has very little screen-time, but she has a few critical scenes, and she needs to be enough of a power in those scenes for her presence to resonate throughout the rest of the film as the object of Doc’s quest.  In this Ms. Waterston succeeds wildly (and not just because of one striking scene of jaw-dropping nudity).  Ms. Waterston is incredible in the role, creating a fully-realized character in just a few minutes, and more than holding her own with Joaquin Phoenix.  This is an actress I will be paying attention to in the future.

The film is jammed-full of wonderful actors who each appear in small roles as Doc’s quest takes him all over the world of nineteen-seventies Los Angeles.  Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Maya Rudolph, and quite a few other familiar faces inhabit the world of kooks and weirdos that Doc navigates.  Special mention must be made of Martin Short as a deranged, horny dentist, who absolutely takes over the movie for the few minutes he is on-screen.  Magnificent.

I’m not sure the film’s complicated plot made 100% sense to me, but this is a film that demands re-watching.  I’ll be interested to see if future viewings clarify certain plot points for me, or if I feel that things don’t connect as well as I would hope.  For now, I feel like I did not achieve full comprehension of the story, but I am OK with that.  The crazy, funny journey was enough for me.

I really relished every minute of this film.  It was truly delightful, just the right balance of entertaining weirdness and intriguing mystery to hook me fully.  I definitely recommend this one.

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