Movie Review: Inherent Vice

Inherent Vice

Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, Jena Malone, Maya Rudolph, and Martin Short.


As the Grateful Dead would have said: “What a long, strange trip it’s been”. That might well sum up ‘Inherent Vice’, the new movie directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, based on a novel by Thomas Pynchon. It is a story based in early 1970 in coastal California during the middle of the seedy drug culture and after the Summer of Love.

“Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is a stoner, a shrink and a Private Detective. His last job gets him involved with some flaky and bizarre happenings. His prior girlfriend, Shasta (Katherine Waterston) fears that her new boyfriend has come into foul play. He is a rich land developer with a wife ready to mourn if he is kidnapped and killed. She has a blank veil and a black bikini at the ready.

Doc investigates his ex-girlfriend’s current boyfriend’s “missing” status, but he is soon found at the scene of a murder. He has a run-in with L.A. police Detective “Bigfoot” Bjornsen. Bigfoot decides that Sportello was too whacked out to do the murder, so he leans on Doc to help him with cracking a drug ring. Doc finds out something about a mysterious “Golden Fang”. Doc gets some more information from his current girlfriend, Penny Kimball (Reese Witherspoon) who is in the District Attorney’s office

Doc gets a new request from and old friend Hope Harlingen (Jena Malone). Her husband, Coy Harlingen (Owen Wilson) cannot be found. He and Doc go way back, toking up and surfing for many years. Coy might be dead, or he might be on the run. Doc sees him on the news when Coy shows up at a radical political rally. He might might have gone underground and went to extremes.

Doc also meets with his lawyer, Sauncho  (Benicio del Toro) who tells him what he knows about the Golden Fang. It is supposed to be a China drug cartel that sends a secret ship into the docks at night to unload drugs. But later, Doc meets Dr. Rudy (Martin Short), who is an orthodontist. He explains that the Golden Fang is merely a top-level group that works with dental professionals.


Doc has many run-ins with some oddball characters. Many people disappear for a while, and then they reappear. He gets plenty wasted every day, getting into tight spots and then getting out of them. He has some wild 60’s outfits, and wild hair and bushy mutton-chop sideburns to match. He feels right at home being high and in a confounded state.

The whole thing is long and confusing, but Joaquin Phoenix is perfect as the befuddled stoner private detective. Josh Brolin does a very good job as Bigfoot, but there is not much for him to do. Many of the actors are OK, and there are none that stand out that much. Katherine Waterston does a very long scene naked (why?) and Martin Short looks older than he should be.

Paul Thomas Anderson has done many movies that have received critical (and fan) acclaim. Such as ‘Boogie Nights’, ‘Magnolia’, ‘Punch-Love Drunk’, ‘There Will Be Blood’, and ‘The Master’. But here he seems to be slumming it. There are a lot of places where this could have been tighter or more consistent. Maybe 10 or 15 minutes could be eliminated without notice.

The plot could be considered a mash up of ‘The Big Lebowski’ meets ‘Chinatown’ meets ‘LA Confidential’ meets ‘The Big Fix’. The stoner detective aspect along with the period piece set in L.A. along with the huge shady land deal behind the conspiracy and a big group of oddball side characters, it all adds up to something that has been done before…

Length: 148 minutes
Rated: R

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