A private detective/stoner enters a world of structured chaos and paranoia in a groovy noir. Warner Bros; 2014; Rated R; 148 minutes.
Inherent Cannabis Confusion: Trying to make sense of a movie like Inherent Vice is no easy feat. There are story beats happening, but no traditional narrative to speak of. There are dozens of characters with complex dialogue traversing intricate mysteries, but the mystery is not the focus here. Paul Thomas Anderson fuses the world of a sun-bleached noir with a billow of fumes that work hard to deceive the audience and protagonist Doc Sportello. In classic noir tradition, everything is already complicated. As Joaquin Phoenix’s Doc smokes more joints, the higher he gets, the more convoluted the story becomes. PTA uses paranoia to the film’s advantage to tackle another noir story trait: The Little Guy vs the Man.
Love Usually Leads To Trouble: Doc is the Little Guy holding on to a time forced into change. A flashback reveals a memory of simple romance by an empty plot of land. Cut to the present; the land is now a gargantuan office building. The Man is personified by a mysterious syndicate called the Golden Fang. The variety of crime they seem to take part in is never fully understood (everything from land grabs to dentistry is at play here). Golden Fang serves as more of a manifestation of societal structures taking out what they perceive as trash from the previous decade, whilst preparing for a new era.
Doc Sportello’s culture crisis manifests itself with his run-ins with a hippie-hating cop (Josh Brolin doing his best work in years) and the femme fatale former-girlfriend. Brolin’s cop “Officer Bigfoot” is physically trimmed and built to be the ultimate do-gooder. Doc falls on the scruffy-looking side of things with long unkempt hair and dirty feet. Shasta – Katherine Waterston giving it her all in a subdued performance – walks through Doc’s story with elegance and sexuality. Its clear Doc is still smitten as a kitten through body language alone. When you can understand what is happening between two characters with just a few glances, that’s impressive filmmaking.
PTA: I can’t tell you how well the source material has translated to the big screen. What I can tell you is that I fully intend to read the book in the near-future. I can also tell you that PTA must have had a ball making this film since Inherent Vice is by far his funniest movie. At times the film uses some truly outrageous physical comedy, but never loses sight of common PTA themes (isolation and a haunting past).
The technical aspects of PTA also remain intact. Inherent Vice employs an abundance of long shots as per usual with this director. Instead of using sweeping shots like There Will Be Blood or The Master, PTA constrains the footage to mostly medium shots and close-ups. The close proximity keeps the proceedings intimate. It pulls us even further into Doc’s isolated existence.
Final Words: Inherent Vice isn’t a movie for everyone. It’s far less accessible than a movie like Gone Girl but more welcoming than something like Nightcrawler. If you take a trip with these little hippies, you’ll be in for a movie experience unlike any other. I can’t wait to revisit this funky pot-influenced noir.