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inherent_viceINHERENT VICE

Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson / Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin and Reese Witherspoon

Sortilege: Psst. Doper’s ESP, Doc. Doper’s ESP.

As I sit down to write about Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, INHERENT VICE, I’m still not 100% certain that I have actually grasped what took place in the 148 minutes that make up this movie. I’m also not at all sure that this matters really, as it is undeniably a pretty groovy time all the same. And yes, I can say groovy in this case, because the whole thing takes place in the 70’s. I tried to follow the plot as best I could, and in a moment I will do my best to help you muddle through it yourself; I laughed often and I basked in the sun soaked 70mm nostalgia flickering on the screen; and when it was done, I felt I had enjoyed the film but I didn’t really know why. I also couldn’t be certain whether I had actually enjoyed it or just survived it. Maybe I wasn’t stoned enough. Or maybe Thomas Pynchon’s novel of the same name is just as unfilmable as they say it is.


INHERENT VICE is a stoner film that never touches the ground. It isn’t the kind of stoner film where dudes lose cars or go out in search of tiny hamburgers. No, this is the kind of stoner film where the main character is a big pothead, and then some, instead (like THE BIG LEBOWSKI, ish. Or L.A. CONFIDENTIAL on acid). And as he proceeds to get higher and higher and higher and even higher still, you are carried along for the ride, whether you like it or not. I mean, I guess you could walk out or shut if off; I honestly wondered if Anderson was daring people to do so at times. Anyway, speaking of being carried along for the ride, this is essentially what happens to the film’s hero as well. Joaquin Phoenix, reteaming, and sadly less successfully, with Anderson after making THE MASTER together, is Larry Sportello, better known as Doc, a private investigator working in Los Angeles. A surprise return from an ex-girlfriend named Shasta Fay (Katherine Waterston) leads him on a plan to foil a plot already in motion involving someone she is now seeing, in addition to his wife, her lover and one of his bodyguards. Shortly thereafter, Shasta Fay also disappears and before you know it, there is a conspiracy involving big real estate, dentists and prostitutes, I think. And pretty much everyone is on something all of the time.


Phoenix isn’t so much investigating here as fumbling along the way and occasionally getting lucky. Whether he is dealing with an obsessed celebrity cop affectionately named Bigfoot (Josh Brolin, who is constantly running circles around just how square the guy he’s playing is) or his recent girlfriend, who happens to work in the District Attorney’s office (played by Reese Witherspoon, reuniting with Phoenix for the first time since WALK THE LINE), he never really seems clear on the nature of these relationships or with what is going on around him. On the one hand, I have to commend Anderson for genuinely conveying the confusion that must have been plaguing this man the entire way through his investigation. On the other though, INHERENT VICE sometimes plays like it doesn’t know where it’s going. If Doc can’t sort any of it out, how are we supposed to? Still, it’s a real trip and at times, everything comes together, including Robert Elswit’s exquisite cinematography and Johnny Greenwood’s brilliant score, both returning to work with Anderson after creating the masterpiece that is THERE WILL BE BLOOD, to create the perfect haze to get lost in. I know to a large extent I’ve failed to grasp the point here, but I almost feel like that maybe is the point. If it isn’t, I’m not sure there actually is one.

3.5 sheep

Your turn!

How many sheep would you give Inherent Vice?



  1. Totally agree with your review. I can’t see why the movie or anyone in it could be nominated for anything. Foreign movies
    Are alive and well. American movies are dying with every picture like this.

  2. It’s aimless, like waking up in the midst of a nightmare, groping to understand what’s going on. Pynchon/Anderson is usually 2 or 3 steps ahead of you…or is it behind you? When you think you’ve grasped a thread it is suddenly snatched away to float willy-nilly, first in front of you, then back. Even Christopher Nolan would be confused trying to understand where it’s going, hoping to patch together some semblance of logical action. Phoenix seems befuddled, too, not sure how to dress and behave in a scene. Should I wash? Wear rags? I dunno. Josh Brolin’s character is at least somewhat consistent. Reese Witherspoon seems to appear from a sequel of Legally Blonde, but took a wrong turn, winding up in the back streets
    of some dingy forlorn city near Lake Erie. Maybe the cast and crew will all get together to produce a new movie instead. Gravity’s Rainbow?

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