Adam Reynoso ’15 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
As soon as the film begins, Inherent Vice immediately throws you into its world of hippies, drugs and nostalgia. Just like its poster, the film is illuminated by colorful scenery, and it’s the type of film that can be expected from writer/ director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood). However, while his previous films have been rich in complex and compelling characters and pretty straightforward plot, it’s the plot that gets a bit scrambled in Inherent Vice. It could be due to the nature of most of Thomas Pynchon’s novels, the author whose novel the film is based on. Or perhaps it’s meant to be as disillusioned and unclear like the lead character, Larry “Doc” Sportello, played by Joaquin Phoenix. But either way, it makes it harder to get into the movie.
While the plot is filled with all of these anecdotes and character interactions, it’s the characters that shape the film. Every actor here steps it up and goes with this 70’s, heroin filled world. Phoenix truly earned his Golden Globe nod with this role as he yet again, stepped into this tweaked out, paranoid private investigator looking into his ex-girlfriend’s predicament. He plays him almost like Jeff Bridges as The Dude in The Big Lebowski, except with his own twist and ticks of his own. Phoenix is a very skilled, seasoned actor and his work with Anderson continues to be phenomenal.
One of the biggest surprises was Joanna Newsom‘s role as Sortilege, both a friend of Doc and Katherine Waterston‘s Shasta and also functions as the narrator of the film. Her voiceover adds more humor and insight and it helps make sense of the story. But it’s also Waterston’s Shasta that adds to the already impressive cast. She’s mesmerizing as Doc’s old flame and she commands presence whenever she’s on the screen. She has an allure about her and it’s magnetic.
The story isn’t as complicated on paper as it is on screen, but the film follows Doc as he receives an unexpected late visit from his ex, Shasta. She believes her married lover is about to be institutionalized by his own wife and her lover, and so she asks for Doc’s help. The rest of the film follows what happens next and weaves together strands of other stories and characters. The reason it gets a bit too much is that there are so many characters to keep up with, not to mention Doc’s dope addiction that adds to the craziness of the film. Navigating one of Pynchon’s novels was never going to be easy, especially with a two and half hour running time, but there has to be a way to make the first half a bit more clear. Even with the big cast, it’s not the ensemble that’s the problem. Every one of them works, especially Josh Brolin‘s detective “Bigfoot” character, Doc’s rival.
With a cast that shines and a director who’s had a track record of making award winning, compelling features, Inherent Vice is a good movie with just a really complicated plot. It has the making of an outstanding film, it’s just a fight to make it easier to follow and get into with its first act.
Overall Grade: B