A Smokey Haze: A Review of Inherent Vice

Inherent Vice

In 1970, Doc Sportello, a private investigator with a soft spot for pot smoking, receives a visit from his former girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth. As it turns out she wants him to help her out with a plot to kidnap her current boyfriend, real estate magnate Mickey Wolfmann, which Wolfmann’s wife and her boyfriend have set up. If that does not sound already confusing enough, Doc suddenly finds himself haunted by a multitude of characters asking him for help with their problems, which somehow all turn out to be connected to the Wolfmann case. Doc starts investigating hazy leads and paranoid assumptions, or so the storyline of Inherent Vice, one of Thomas Pynchon’s more accessible novels, goes. Pynchon’s is not one of the easiest authors to read and is known for his bewildering and cutting-edge novels of extremely high density (his colossal Gravity’s Rainbow is oftentimes mentioned in the same breath as perplexing doorstoppers such as Ulysses and Infinite Jest). Making a film out of one of his novels has thus unsurprisingly not been a quest any director has dared embark upon. That is until Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master, Magnolia, Boogie Nights) started writing the script for Inherent Vice in 2010.

With Inherent Vice, Anderson craftily distilled a two-and-a-half-hour drug-induced odyssey through realms as varying as neo-Nazi hideouts, massage parlours, hippie-invested mansions, drug-swindling ships, police stations, shady nightclubs, and FBI buildings, from the virtually indigestible maze of Pynchon’s novel. The film stages a perfect rendition of the borderland between the sixties and seventies, thereby commenting on the paranoid grasp that was seizing the bygone sixties after shocking events such as the Manson family murders.

All of the film’s characters seem perpetually baffled by the goings-on, and many a viewer might feel the same way too. Whereas the film is already notorious for the many walkouts during its screenings and its unsuccessful run in American film theatres, sitting through the film is worth it just for its subtle (but sometimes bordering on slapstick) humour. Although some of the scenes do indeed drag on for a little bit too long and some of the characters (particularly the character of Reese Witherspoon) fall short because a lot of the original plot has been cut, the acting of Josh Brolin (Bigfoot Bjornsen) and especially that of Joaquin Phoenix (Doc Sportello) definitely make up for these shortcomings. Providing us with spot-on bewilderment and alternately sneering and loving remarks, they make for an unlikely as well as hilarious crime-solving duo.

While the film is not as perfectly steady in its cinematography as Anderson’s previous film The Master (2012), Inherent Vice sets forth a humoristic brilliance that is perfectly acted out throughout its digressive plot. For those who are still afraid of this trippy tale that is thickly veiled in an opaque haze of smoke, lighting up a joint, as Josh Brolin suggested during the film’s publicity tour, might help you open up to the druggy frenzy of this film.


Watch the trailer here.

Inherent Vice

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Joanna Newson, Benicio Del Toro, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, and others

Duration: 146 minutes

Playing at: Pathé City, Pathé Tuschinski, Filmhallen, Cinecenter, Kriteron, The Movies



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