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Three Views: Inherent Vice

December 26, 2014

Inherent Vice Poster

Inherent Vice – A Warner Bros. Release

Release Date: December 25th, 2014 (Limited)
Rated 14A for drug use, sexual content, graphic nudity and some violence
Running Time: 148 minutes

Paul Thomas Anderson (director)

Paul Thomas Anderson (screenplay)

Based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon

Jonny Greenwood (music)

Joaquin Phoenix as Larry “Doc” Sportello
Josh Brolin as Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen
Owen Wilson as Coy Harlingen
Katherine Waterston as Shasta Fay Hepworth
Reese Witherspoon as Penny Kimball
Benicio Del Toro as Sauncho Smilax
Jena Malone as Hope Harlingen
Maya Rudolph as Petunia Leeway
Martin Short as Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd
Joanna Newsom as Sortilège

Inherent Vice

Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston) and Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) in Inherent Vice.

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Inherent Vice Review By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

It’s nearly impossible to offer a coherent description of the plot behind director Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, because the narrative keeps changing as more story threads are revealed.  Which is why it’s best to just experience the ride that this high concept stoner caper takes us on.  This is one of the most deliriously entertaining and strangely compelling movies of 2014, a stylish mix of comedy, drama and film noir that left me stumbling out of the theatre feeling dazed.

The plot is as thick as pea soup and just as murky.  The year is 1970, and the through line of the film is private investigator Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), a stoned out hippy drifting through Los Angeles.  When his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston) reappears with information regarding the possible kidnapping of developer Michael Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), Doc starts investigating the increasingly strange case alongside his rival, tough officer Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin).

Doc spends pretty much the entire film under the influence of marijuana, with the twisting and turning plot keeping us in just as much of a drugged out haze.  Every scene is intensely focused and completely important unto itself, but as people keep being introduced and new leads explored, we struggle alongside the character to keep track of who’s connected and what exactly is going on.  I think the final scenes leave things up to debate in terms of how we wish to interpret all of these events.

Some will leave the theatre scratching their heads and therefore write off the entire movie, but I actually think this willingness to confound the audience is one of the greatest strengths of Inherent Vice, and the film offers incredible entertainment for those willing to take the ride.  Because even as the connections between characters become increasingly complicated, and the plot grows more convoluted, I was gripped to the screen for every perfectly framed and brilliantly acted moment of the 148 minute running time.

Joaquin Phoenix continues to prove himself as one of the best actors of this generation, and Josh Brolin delivers some of his best work.  Katherine Waterston also gets her share of memorable scenes, and the outstanding supporting cast includes pitch perfect appearances from Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson and Martin Short, among other familiar faces.  The tone is often absurd and sometimes surreal, with several shockingly funny moments and a few brilliant sight gags, but the story also has moments of surprising poignancy, like a rain-soaked flashback set to Neil Young’s “Journey Through the Past.”

There will be many conversations about what Inherent Vice ultimately means.  Some will argue that this is a mystery meant to be literally pieced together, a detective story that relies on the audience to interpret the many clues hidden within.  Others will claim this story is more meant as a metaphor of drugged out paranoia in an era of increasing social and political uncertainty, with thoughtful undertones about the underlying fear that was felt throughout post-Manson Los Angeles.  I think both conversations are valid and worth having, and multiple viewings will inevitably make the film even richer.

Paul Thomas Anderson expertly handles this mix of tones, further cementing himself as one of the most interesting and exciting filmmakers currently working.  With cinematography steeped in hazy imagery, and a brilliant ensemble cast that memorably brings to life even the most eccentric of these characters, Inherent Vice is a hypnotizing cinematic drug trip that proves to be quite an addictive experience.

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Inherent Vice Review By Erin Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Adapted from a novel by Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice is a crazy and brilliantly acted film.  We follow Private Investigator Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), who is approached by a former lover of his to get advice on her relationship with billionaire Micky Wolfmann (Eric Roberts).

When Wolfmann goes missing along with his girlfriend, Doc sets out to find them, and gets caught up unravelling as best he can elements of drug smuggling, tax evasion, strip joints, a missing musician, a mysterious boat called the Golden Fang, and a group of dentists that popped into the neighbourhood recently.  Meanwhile, he has the police detective “Bigfoot” (Josh Brolin) on his tail, who seems oddly to both suspect Doc and want to work with him.  If that all sounds confusing, don’t worry.  It is.

Each scene is intently focused on the newest lead Doc finds, although each scene does not inherently flow conventionally to the next.  Taking place in 1970, the whole film plays with the feeling of a hazed, drugged out reality – appropriate for the characters – and by the time you leave the theatre, it is in a slightly confused state.

While the film is not one that you can necessarily say makes perfect sense or can be followed to a T on first viewing, the performances, music, and overall atmosphere make this one worth seeing.  With just enough conspiracy and paranoia, Inherent Vice captures the essence of its characters, time, and setting well.  Expect a tone very much like the trailer – while not all give you an accurate feel, this one does.

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Inherent Vice Review By Tony Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Inherent Vice is the first American feature film based on a Thomas Pynchon novel, adapted and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. The film is carried brilliantly by Joaquin Phœnix as “Doc” Sportello, a PI who stumbles amid a cloud of pot smoke into one situation after another. Joanna Newsom plays a dual role as narrator and confidante whose name Sortilège suggests she may not be real.

Initially asked by an old girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston) to look into the disappearance of real estate tycoon Mike Wolfman (Eric Roberts), Doc encounters an extraordinary cast of characters and plot twists in countless memorable scenes that merit repeated viewings. Josh Brolin as the rogue cop “Bigfoot” carries police/PI rivalry to an absurd level kept up by the other characters in brief appearances, including Reese Witherspoon, Serena Scott Thomas, Benicio Del Toro, and Martin Short.

Whether under the influence or not, don’t expect to understand everything the first or second time around, but the ride is definitely worth it.

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Consensus: The latest from master filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice is a wildly entertaining mix of comedy and detective story, filled with an addictive atmosphere and brilliant performances from the outstanding ensemble cast. ★★★½ (out of 4)

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