Inherent Vice (2014)

I confess to looking up Roger Ebert’s website to read a review of Inherent Vice (2014) and succumbed to the excellent efforts of Ebert contributor Matt Zoller Seitz. 

While preparing to cut and paste this review for your enjoyment, I noticed an error* and decided laziness was to be no excuse for my own interpretation. 

Inherent Vice has a plot not easily explained so let’s just say a constantly high private detective, Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) begins to investigate an interwoven mystery involving his former love interest Shasta (Katherine Waterston). This leads to a set of seedy and bizarre characters inhabiting 1970 Los Angeles. A narrator named Sortilege in the titles provides some background information at the start and, though we see her in the flesh, appears to be Doc’s conscience and inner brain past the shadows and fog of his drug-addled mind. 


The movie is like The Big Sleep (1946) and Chinatown (1974) in its quick introduction and exit of characters who may or may not be part of the ongoing plot but leave a pretty strong impression on the viewer while they are on screen. As in any detective story, the leads develop sometimes into dead ends or take you on unexpected tangents until resolution ensues. 

Good humour pervades the film and most of us smiled throughout as the stoned sleuth sorted segments of the unseemly scenario. However, though we smiled, Inherent Vice showed viewers an even more disappointing aspect of US west coast life than we could possibly imagine. 

Not only are the bad guys filling everyone with junk, they are milking them (or their concerned loved ones) at the other end by fixing their teeth and unscrambling their minds in drug money-financed institutions. How evil can evil be? 

Adapted for the screen by director Paul Thomas Anderson from a Thomas Pynchon novel, Inherent Vice is a great ride and continues Anderson’s run of hits since his debut feature Hard Eight (1996). 

He has also directed Boogie Nights (1997), Magnolia (1999), Punch-Drunk Love (2002), There Will Be Blood (2007) and The Master (2012). 

Boogie Nights was a brilliant re-creation of the pornography industry; Magnolia makes it onto many best-ever film lists; and Daniel Day Lewis’s performance in There Will Be Blood is considered one of the best ever portrayed on screen. 

Anderson is the kind of director that famous names want to work with and he has no shortage of excellent actors in most of his movies. Phoenix, a previous award winner for Best Actor in The Master, displays all his skill again as the always-blazed Doc. Looking scraggly and often in bare feet that pick up plenty of LA dirt, Doc is still able to woo the delectable assistant DA (Reese Witherspoon) into his bed. Later he watches awestruck as Shasta masturbates while delivering a soliloquy about life in her world since leaving him. 

It was a long scene but the erotica was palpable. 

Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Martin Short and Benicio Del Toro all play significant roles and the only criticism that could be levelled is the film went a bit long. However, with all the winding paths of the plot, if any more had been cut we would have been even more confused than we perhaps were? 

Special plaudits for the soundtrack which could be the subject of a film student thesis as to the relevance of the songs and why they were attached to individual scenes. All I can remember is Neil Young’s distinctive voice beautifully breaking my concentration at two points. 

Score: 4

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