Review: Inherent Vice
The lead character of Inherent Vice doesn’t quite know what he’s getting into when his sultry, mesmerizing ex-lover asks for help. The viewer is in the same spot. And when it all ends, all parties may be just as confused, if not more so.
That’s because this SoCal 70s era stoner noir from Paul Thomas Anderson is a captivating, addled, and circuitous story about the insecurities and dependencies of man. Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello (a fantastic Joaquin Phoenix) takes up the call for help from Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston). She is in trouble (maybe), and Doc’s subsequent journey finds him encountering corrupt cops, bizarre cults, sex workers, wayward doctors, and a whole slew of other bizarre characters and clans, including someone or something called the Golden Fang.
This isn’t about plot, though. When there isn’t a literal haze on screen in this atmospheric piece of hysterical absurdity, there is a metaphoric one hanging over it. While Inherent Vice is ultimately mysterious, it’s not necessarily about solving this crime so much as finding solace. Doc, so-called as he is an actual dentist as well as a private detective is a fascinating character: earnest and hopeful, carefree yet determined. He solicits the help a variety of randoms, including our hippie narrator Sortilege (Joanna Newsom), the peculiar Sauncho Smilax (Benicio del Toro), and a district attorney played by Reese Witherspoon.
Based on the book by Thomas Pynchon, we’ve also some colourfully named characters such as Hope and Coy Harlingen (Jena Malone, Owen Wilson), and Christian F. ‘Bigfoot’ Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), an LAPD officer ready to prove his masculinity thought often weirdly subconsciously subverting it.
Unlike the previous collaboration between Phoenix and Anderson in The Master, this is a bizarre and confusing journey that you’re happy to join in on. Whereas that period exploration made you feel uneasy, Inherent Vice is a deliciously delirious exploration, a voyeuristic escapade on tangential, hysterical conversations that may or may not have any meaning at all.
And that’s the fun of it. Vice is a film that can have various meanings to different users, existing and working on both a deep and a superficial level. With the latter, there are memorable images and quotable dialogue delivered by noted actors in costumes. Still, Inherent Vice for all its drugs, sex, and more drugs, is a winning love story driven by one genuine and content man in world of unease and pride.