Inherent Vice (2014)

Final Rating: 7.4/10

How many perfect movies can Paul Thomas Anderson make? Four, for now: Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood and The Master. As I discussed in my Best of the Decade (So Far) list, Anderson is most certainly a filmmaker that tries to show America in a new light. Boogie Nights showed the chase of the American dream while characters overly indulged in its obsessions, too. Magnolia connected a slew of civilians to one narrative to show the unity America has during both everyday life and a life shattering event. There Will Be Blood spoke about the craving of power and dominance. The Master showed the necessity of having a higher figure to worship, whether it be through religion or perversion. Inherent Vice, too, describes America. What does the film have to say about the country it takes place in? It’s a bit unforgiving. 

That’s about it. Anderson’s commentary on the US of A here is not as complicated as it usually is. We see Doc Sportello get his face kicked in with insults in almost every scene. He is an investigator; an occupation that is usually widely respected. He, however, is often ridiculed as a hippy and a stoner. Oddly enough, that culture is one that is also rather accepted, especially nowadays. The two combined is seen as something to mock here, though. It also ends up being the main problem with the movie. You are dealing with a lot of information with the mindset of a fog-headed doper. It will all make sense in the end if you pay the utmost attention, but it is oh-so difficult to when you feel as zoned out as Sportello does. If you get lost, it is technically your own fault, but it is such a task to focus more than the main character of the story has to. 

If you are on the right track the whole time, good for you; You’ve done better than most of us did. If you get side tracked, don’t worry, as there are many funny one liners here that make Inherent Vice somewhat a Big Lebowski in disguise. You will go to many places and see many faces, yet Inherent Vice ends as smoothly as it rides. There aren’t too many bangs in this feature. The most tense moments are usually at Sportello’s expense and are simply funny to us. His successes are simply moments we can nod and raise our eyebrows in appreciation to. There won’t be any moments to clap to, but there certainly aren’t any moments to groan at, either.

That’s just the thing about Inherent Vice that makes it most certainly a passable movie. Nothing about the movie is truly bad. Some things can just be done better. It is quite strong in a few areas, so it makes you want to stay along for the ride (for a while, anyways). Joaquin Phoenix is wonderful as always as Sportello. He is a goof that you cannot get angry at (especially with those ski slopping side burns). Josh Brolin turns in one of his best performances in a few years as Bigfoot. He is a massive jerk but a damn funny one at that. The rotating door of characters include notable performances from actors like Jenna Malone, Reese Witherspoon, Benecio Del Toro, Katherine Waterson, Owen Wilson, Michael K Williams (can he seriously star in something for once?) and newcomer Joanna Newsom. 

The cinematography isn’t the greatest you’ll find in an Anderson film, but it’s still delightful enough. Inherent Vice feels as literary as it is due to the visuals that are as dreamlike as the scenes you create in your head as you read. Jonny Greenwood’s music once again accompanies an Anderson movie with ease. This time, Greenwood churns out his most normal score yet as he pays tribute to the music of the 70’s while remaining both modern and being contained as a score. The guitar playing and music structures hop between eras, and you will be transported while you sit comfortably in our time. It’s a bit safe, but it’s still delightful.

Inherent Vice may be a challenge in a bad sense, but it is still rather harmless. It will sit well with some viewers and harder for others. I feel it is worth checking out because there is quite a lot of effort put into this release. It is like it’s main character Sportello: Quickly judged and not given a chance. Treat it like a friend that rambles their passions to you as you fight to catch all of what they have to say, and you will see a lot of heart is present here. Of course, it’s wrong to expect perfection from Paul Thomas Anderson every time, and Inherent Vice is definitely one of his weaker films. Still, a weaker film of Anderson’s is still better than a number of films. This is because of Anderson’s ability to create a new world with the world we already live in, and each world in each of his respective films is different. You may want to leave Inherent Vice quickly (depending on how you take its plotting and pacing), but don’t be surprised if you are curious to go back to that crazy place.

About author

Former Film Editor & Music Writer at Live in Limbo. Co-host of the Capsule Podcast. A Greek/South African film enthusiast. He has recently earned a BFA honours degree in Cinema Studies at York University. He is also heavily into music, as he can play a number of instruments and was even in a few bands. He writes about both films and music constantly. You should follow him on Twitter @Andreasbabs.