The 400-Word-Review: Inherent Vice
By Sean Collier
January 12, 2015

There are PEOPLE living in her head!

To watch Inherent Vice is to be transported to Los Angeles in 1970, reappear in midair above a seedy (yet laid-back) corner of the city and fall headlong onto the beach amongst the lives of the film’s characters. You will not know who they are, why you’re meeting them or why they’re important. And, apparently, that’s just the way director Paul Thomas Anderson would have it.

At the center of this tripped-out galaxy is Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), a faded hippie who serves as a private eye for folks with too many secrets to consult the police. His ex, human sunbeam Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston), turns up to ask for some help; she’s been vaguely involved with old rich guy “Mickey” Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), whose disappearance is allegedly (but not practically) at the center of the story. Doc gets set up for some possibly-unrelated crimes, washing up on the desk of cop/actor “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin) before getting drawn into the alternate mystery of newly-sober young mother Hope Harlingen (Jena Malone) and her dead-but-probably-not-dead husband, jazz virtuoso Coy (Owen Wilson).

That’s the most streamlined description I could muster, and it doesn’t even address the significant roles played by Reese Witherspoon (a defiant deputy district attorney), Benicio del Toro (Doc’s unpaid advocate), Martin Short (a drugged-out dentist ... or something) and Joanna Newsom (who pops in now and then with metaphysical, if not elucidating, narration).

There’s commentary in this about the dying days of hippie-ism and the slow march towards Reagan, but I’m not sure why anyone would choose to seize on those aspects of Inherent Vice. Instead, look at the gonzo filmmaking here as the tides roll in and out on plotlines, settings and ideas — awash in calculated music, lighting and cinematography choices that guarantee your experience will increase commensurate with how much you let go of any desire to, like, get it, man.

In fact, Inherent Vice aggressively does not care if you’re following along, and perhaps you shouldn’t try; this is a ride best experienced in the fuzzy-headed bewilderment frequently worn by Doc himself. Repeat viewings (and a knowledge of the Thomas Pynchon novel that served as source material) will eventually illuminate the plot, but the plot is not the thing; you will be dropped into a world, stumble around it for 148 minutes, and then you will be suddenly sucked back out of it.

My Rating: 9/10