Inherent Vice

by | Jan 25, 2015 | 0 comments

An Incredibly Complicated Story Shadows a Great Cast and Director

It’s hard for filmmakers to admit this: but some stories just can’t be told on the screen. There were a few ‘miracles’ like Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, but that was pulled off due to a perfect mixture of director and story. Inherent Vice and Paul Thomas Anderson were not the right fit. Anderson already makes complicated films and abstract films that are difficult to follow, if you give him a Thomas Pynchon detective novel, whose plot is more complicated than any Sherlock Holmes or Poirot story you’ve experienced, then prepare to be completely lost.

Frankly telling you the basic plot of the film is a bit of a challenge itself. Inherent Vice follows Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) who is a junkie private detective. One day his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterson) suddenly appears at his house. Shasta is the mistress of a rich real estate broker named Michael Z. Wolfmann (Eric Roberts). Shasta fears that Wolfmann’s wife, Sloane (Serena Scott Thomas), and her lover (Martin Dew) are planning to kidnap Wolfmann and throw him in an insane asylum in order to take his money. Doc begins investigating, but then Wolfmann and Shasta disappear, which leads him to pry into darker places and more specifically into a super powerful drug cartel.

The problem with the film is the actual choice of the story. The cast is great, which includes the likes of Owen Wilson, as a double agent stuck between the police and mafiosos; Josh Brolin, as a tough police officer whose had it with Doc; Benicio del Toro, who is Doc’s lawyer; Reese Witherspoon, who is one of Doc’s girlfriends and works at the DA, etc. The director is amazing, one of my favorites in fact; Paul Thomas Anderson is the mind behind Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood, and The Master. He has been pushing into the abstract and weird and with Inherent Vice he found his limit. The problem was that he was too ambitious with the story. It’s too complicated to be told in a film; maybe a TV show would have worked out better, but within the constraints of two hours there is too many characters and mayhem going on for the audience to keep up, I personally lasted 20 minutes before I got lost. The extreme value of every word was so crucial to our sense of direction that if Joaquin Phoenix accidently mumbled a word we would lose ourselves for the rest of the film. With this sense of loss the next hour and a half become eternal and one wants to simply read the IMDb synopsis afterward to figure out what the hell had been going on. For book fans I don’t know if this will be satisfying, but cinematically it’s disappointing.

Joaquin Phoenix, has been pushing himself recently with roles in abstract and original films such as Her and The Master, he too was very ambitious and with the role of doc he acted more for himself than for the audience. This caused for his diction to be completely lost, otherwise it was a delight seeing him act high and confused. There was also a very big surprise with Katherine Waterson (daughter of Sam Waterson). Even though she gets very little screen time, she handled her role and rolled her words in her mouth in a very Christoph Waltz way, so that you cherished the dialogue. Josh Brolin is also surprising, after sidestepping his tough guy roles (Oldboy, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Men In Black 3) and his failed attempts at romantic films (Labor Day), he found his type of characters: tough, fast-talking, douches. He plays his role in Inherent Vice with a passion nobody knew was there. He adds humor and some sense of direction for the audience.

All in all, you might have a great cast and succeed technically. But without a clear story, there is no audience.



Visual Aesthetic





What is your favorite Paul Thomas Anderson movie? Let me know in the comments section.

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