Paul Thomas Anderson has an interesting filmography. With brilliant films in Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood, and some other cryptically good works in Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love, he excels best, for me, in his more accessible works. His previous film, The Master, never lived up to the excellence of There Will Be Blood which preceded it. Now we have Inherent Vice, a drug-filled, psychedelic detective story that delivers in performances but will ultimately fill your eyes with so much smoke that makes you feel like you might’ve missed something.
When Larry “Doc” Sportello’s former lover shows up with word that her new lover’s wife is trying to get him sent to a mental institute, he is intrigued but bitter. When she disappears too, he starts to really look. What follows is a bizarre and often hard to follow mystery with a zany cast, kooky characters, and enough weed to make Pineapple Express look like child’s play.
Joaquin Phoenix is brilliantly funny as the bumbling stoner-detective, “Doc.” A lot of the humor takes just a second to register, but his obliviousness makes you laugh. He is perhaps his funniest here, continuing his revival as an actor after last year’s Her. Also, in a pretty surprisingly scene-stealing role, Josh Brolin as “Bigfoot” Bjornsen will make you laugh even more than Joaquin. He is rude, bizarre, and utterly hilarious. The chemistry the two of them have, as former rivals in a sense, makes for a very comical duo when the two are on screen together.
The cast is full of big names, but most are hardly seen. Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro, Reese Witherspoon, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, Michael Kenneth Williams, and more fill out the supporting cast and each offers up something a little different, but they do feel left out for most of the 2.5 hour long film.
As I have said before, and much like some of Anderson’s other films, Inherent Vice feels a bit ambiguous at times. Where The Master never fully comes together at the end, leaving you wondering as to what you might have seen, Inherent Vice feels sort of like this all the way throughout. It feels like something is missing and unclear, and I found myself missing out on what was going on because I was trying to focus on what wasn’t there. By the end it almost seemed like it was purposefully ambiguous, which makes it less-accessible if you don’t know that’s what it is going to be like. It definitely requires multiple viewings to catch onto the little intricacies, because it is a very smart plot with some great little quips that might not seem funny at first. Unfortunately, for people going in blind or not knowing Anderson’s style, it might just seem too weird.
In the end, Inherent Vice has a perfectly zany cast who are lovable, weird, and funny, but a story that is pretty hard to follow at times and a resolution that makes the two and a half hour long journey feel more about what just happened than what the conclusion was. For fans of Anderson, you might be right at home with another addition to his weird side of the filmography, but for those who are unfamiliar, you might want to get your groove on elsewhere.