Inherent Vice


Release: January 9, 2015 (limited)


Written by:  Paul Thomas Anderson

Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

The Andersonian school of thought is that one ought to at least work a little for their entertainment. A movie featuring a bunch of booze, bongs and babes doesn’t seem like it would be hard to follow along with, but if you don’t know Anderson then know this: the undertaking is going to be inherently complex.

You know when you are being told that story about someone that knew someone else by way of their sister’s bestie who had a rude neighbor and it was that neighbor’s uncle who was important — and by the time Uncle has factored in to the story your attention is well on its way out the door? A similar phenomenon has been known to occur with this already infamously meandering tale about sex, drugs, a lot of paranoia and a little Private Eye-ing.

I suggest passing on this joint if you are the type to tune out of the Uncle anecdote before we even get to the Neighbor. For there are a whole lot of people to meet, an even greater pile of Hindu Kush to burn through and a sea of narrative drift and perhaps indulgently long takes to overcome before arriving at a conclusion that really doesn’t deliver much in the way of closure.

Joaquin Phoenix is tapped to portray a character in a story everyone thought impossible to adapt to the silver screen. Though the buzz has morphed into something else now: the adaptation is possible but perhaps not without throwing a lot of people, the stoned and the sober alike, into confusion after one too many character introductions. But let’s start from the beginning. Doc Sportello is awoken on his surf-side couch in southern California by the sudden reappearance of his ex, Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston), who tells him she’s got a new boyfriend.

The new Mr. Wonderful is someone of fair prominence, a shady real estate developer named Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts). There is a plot, either perceived or actual — just like a great many other situations at hand here — by Wolfmann’s wife (Serena Scott Thomas) and her extra-somethin’-somethin’ (Jordan Christian-Hearn) to have Mickey institutionalized for his wanting to join a clan of neo-Nazis, despite his being brought up Jewish.

This appears to be mission numero uno. On top of this, however, a smorgasbord of subplots start working their way into the fold, including one involving one of Mickey’s bodyguards, who currently owes a lot of dough to some thug named . . . ah, what’s the use with names . . . the guy is played by Michael Kenneth Williams. When Doc goes to investigate the bodyguard’s whereabouts he stumbles upon not a private home but a brothel; when he’s knocked unconscious there he awakens not to the sight of two beautiful girls fighting over his stash of smokable items but rather a disgruntled right-wing, anti-hippie detective named (this one’s important) Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (an absolutely hilarious Josh Brolin) who demands he tell him who killed the bodyguard. And, who is responsible for the recent disappearance of Wolfmann and Shasta Fay.

Ding-ding-ding. Suddenly the priorities change for Doc. But first, another puff. Given the news of his “ex old lady,” he plunges himself deep into the murky waters of the So-Cal beach scene of the early ’70s, a scene that’s loath to obfuscate the difference between acceptable and unacceptable lifestyles — weed is for losers guys, but not cocaine — and assorted other addictions. Doc is a fish-out-of-water 9 times out of 10 as he’s high 10 times out of those same 10, possessing a kind of nonchalance that manifests more often as befuddlement. And of course Bigfoot, himself a former hippie but now more interested in gaining power and prestige, has a field day taking apart and putting back together the cliché that is Doc Sportello.

Behind the year’s best mutton chops lies a surprisingly perceptive private investigator, and a remorseful ex-boyfriend. Though the complexities of Inherent Vice don’t make it easy to access anything on a very deep level, Doc is easy to love. His life choices probably aren’t acceptable to many but when compared to the filth and squalor surrounding him, a misery that encrusts itself upon these shores like barnacles on a ship hull, his vices feel harmless. As Doc works alongside Bigfoot as a favor to him rather than being converted into an informant as requested, he is aided in the unraveling of this seemingly never-ending yarn by a true friend in Sauncho Smilax (Benecio del Toro), a man posing as a criminal lawyer.

There is no point in being vague: I did not understand or keep up with everything that went on during this incredibly sprawling investigation. I could have honestly benefitted from reading the book but there’s something about being confined in a theater chair, completely engrossed by what you’re watching without really any sense of direction or a clear path to the end. Inherent Vice is mesmeric in its ambition. Poetic in its cinematography; entertaining by virtue of its thematic depravity.

Ultimately and unfortunately, not an experience everyone will get high off of though.


3-5Recommendation: Fans of Paul Thomas Anderson, we may not have the most coherent film ever but this is quite intentional. Readers of DSB, this is also not the most coherent review ever either. Intentional? I think not. This is a damned hard film to describe and I actually really dig that about it. The fundamentals are there for me: stunning cinematography, solid performances enhanced by an incredibly entertaining wardrobe selection, humor, an interesting plot and a hell of an atmosphere. If any of that appeals, hit this one in theaters while you can.

Rated: R

Running Time: 148 mins.

Quoted: “Doc may not be a ‘Do-Gooder,’ but he’s done good.”

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34 thoughts on “Inherent Vice

    • While there may be a certain. . . . hmm. . . shall we say, pre-gaming before this thing to enhance the experience, fortunately that’s not really required. Although now I can’t help but think that an altered state of mind might help with the narrative drift a bit. It’s a heck of a confusing movie, but man is it enjoyable. I definitely thought so. 🙂 Joaquin Phoenix continues to prove to me he’s one of the more diverse performers out there.

      Thanks again

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Your thoughts echoe my own. I love people complaining that they couldn’t follow the plot. Good read man, I need to get off my backside and write about this groovy action myself! Glad to see that you seem to have enjoyed this one as much as myself


    • I mean, I couldn’t really follow along with the story either. Inherent Vice is a maze. But I found it to be a maze i loved getting lost in.

      Would love to read your thoughts on this one man, it’s wide-open to interpretation.


  2. You lucky fella seeing this before me! Anderson is probably my favourite director at the moment and I simply cannot wait to see what he does with Pynchon’s novel. You’ve got me really looking forward to this now!


    • Hahah, i couldn’t wait for this to come. When I saw that it was finally in knoxville I was all over it, like Bigfoot Bjornsen on a chocolate-covered banana. (If you don’t get that reference now, you soon shall! 😉 )


  3. Nice review man. I saw this a couple of weeks ago but I haven’t finished my own review. Loved the film, but it’s pretty difficult to write a piece about it.


  4. Good work Tom. But for the life on me, man, I cannot seem to muster the enthusiasm to get out to see this. Not sure why. It doesn’t appeal to me in any way what so ever. I mean, I am just a casual fan of PTA, so maybe that is why. I may eventually get to it but I am in no hurry. That aside, though, your review (even though you said you became lazy with it) was well written and insightful, like always, man.


  5. This movie isn’t a priority for me to see, but I’m definitely interested in seeing it. I think I’ll probably be just as confused after I see this movie, and I think I’m OK with that. It looks crazy, but in a really funny and interesting way! Nice review, Tom. I didn’t totally understand everything you said, but I think that’s just how a review for a film like this works.


    • Have you seen any of Paul Thomas Andersons’ work? That might help you get by in this film. He definitely takes his time setting this up, as he cares deeply both for his characters as well as his story. Inherent Vice is a pretty tough one to follow, but I just enjoyed the atmosphere and the relatively easygoing nature of Doc Sportello. I gotta get my mitts on this book now! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Nice work, man. I’m a big PT Anderson fan and this film is top of my list. I’m prepared for a little haze and from what I gather, this certainly has it. Anderson has disappointed many after The Master but I reckon that one of his best films and I’m hoping for more of the same here. I love that he challenges his viewers.


    • Bring some of your “best buds” ( 😉 ) to the party if you feel so bold! It could definitely help, because trying to keep up with this snake of a story sober is damn impossible anyway! hahah

      I also love the way PTA goes about delivering his stories. You remember what I gave
      There Will Be Blood’ originally. . . well, I so wish I could go back and change that b/c after reflecting on that film more, I’ve really grown to love it. You have to earn the experience he is selling you. You can’t just watch it without turning on your brain. Rare are those filmmakers today.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Nice review Tom. I feel suitably prepared for the weed-driven fog now! It’s not out here yet – I seem to be saying that here on an almost daily basis at the moment – but I’m looking forward to it. I have a feeling I’ll like it, it sounds like the kind of movie I love, but you never know…


    • Man I know the feeling of having to say “it’s not out here yet” quite often; there was a string of great films around Christmas and actually last summer that Knoxville, TN did not get that I was seeing reviews pop up for all over the place. It was driving me mad! Fortunately as time passed I was able to get to some of them, and they were for the most part worth it. I think as long as you have your expectations at a reasonable height for Inherent Vice you’ll enjoy yourself. It’s a brain exercise, for sure though.


  8. Nice review. I can appreciate why you liked this. Me? I called Inherent Vice “an aimless trudge through the fog of a marijuana haze.” Paul Thomas Anderson was once my favorite currently working director. That was oh so long ago.


    • Mark I fondly recall some of the lines you had penned in that review, I really cracked up at some of it. . . particularly the ‘high by association’ bit at the end. PTA has this way of extending the experience beyond the cinema screen, and in this case the smoke and haze seems to really evolve outwards from the screen. Soaking the audience in a perpetual state of confusion. I was frustrated for a brief bit but when I realized that things weren’t probably going to get any clearer, I was able to switch into a different gear and just enjoy the things that were happening to me.

      Consequently I became pretty lazy with this review and kind of re-edited it a ton to reflect my care-free state of mind here. I don’t often do that kind of stuff. I try to stay strictly analytic with what i”m doing here. I couldn’t this time though.


  9. Solid review man. I’m still very lukewarm when it comes to PTA. I know he automatically registers for most people, but I find him to be a bit indulgent. I say that but the funny thing is he’s actually made one of my favorite movies of all time – There Will Be Blood. This one though, I’m just not sure about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Keith I can really respect that. This is Paul Thomas Anderson really cutting loose and letting his actors run wild with such a ridiculous story. It’s a bit of ‘Boogie Nights’ cut with hints of a blinding Hunter S. Thompson bender. That will certainly draw a particular crowd. Me not having seen everything PTA has done (this, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood and this are all I’ve witnessed so far of his talents) I think I lapped it up more. He’s got a distinctive style and his work is most certainly a cerebral work-out. I can see how that wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea when it comes to entertainment.


      • You describe him well and when it all clicks it can be brilliant. But sometimes I think he gets in the way of his movies. He falls to much in love with his style. But as you said – a particular crowd. There is a crowd that genuinely loves everything the guy does. I think it all comes down their affection for his style of storytelling.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Honestly there were a number of scenes in Inherent Vice where I thought, almost out loud actually, ‘Gee, couldn’t he have snipped out a couple of minutes from these scenes?’ That would have certainly helped the runtime but at the same time I was giggling too much in some of them to really mind. All the same, yes. I see where PTA can turn a head away. I’m glad there was such good performances here to back-up the story.

          I almost considered seeing this one twice before writing the review. It’s such a complex film. 😀

          Liked by 1 person

    • Gracias Dan! ‘Inherent Vice’ is one of those experiences that may not make a whole lot of sense the entire time, but as long as you are enjoying yourself (I sure as hell was!) then I think that’s all that really matters. So much fun, this one. Loving Paul Thomas Anderson even more now. 😀


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