This would be one of the first films I cover in this revised format, where the studio’s synopsis for the film is off to the side. I say that, because Inherent Vice is flat-out weird, and I’m still sorting out my thoughts on the film. To get an idea of the mindset for the film, read the synopsis, then proceed with the rest of this review.
The first thing to know: Inherent Vice is unapologetically messy, and it requires the viewer to pay complete attention in order to understand anything that’s going on. Even then, that may not be enough. It’s because Inherent Vice is the cinematic equivalent of an intense high.
Inherent Vice follows private eye Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) as he investigates three separate searches for missing people. They are, as follows:
- Real estate tycoon Mickey Wolfmann, the boyfriend of Doc’s former girlfriend Shasta,
- Aryan Brotherhood member Glenn Charlock by someone he knew from prison, ex-convict Tariq Khalil, and
- Coy Harlingen, husband of former drug addict Hope Harlingen.
These three searches eventually tie in together through various connections, including Doc’s own relationship with an intense cop named Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin).
But Inherent Vice isn’t really about the cases as much as the feel of the film. There’s a humor to the film, a self-awareness to its absurdity. And damn, it’s funny. It’s hard to believe this came from the star and director of The Master, because it’s tonally so different. But even when the plot becomes difficult to comprehend, something absurd will pop up on screen that’s shocking enough to provoke laughter. Take Bigfoot’s interactions with chocolate bananas, or any time drugs appear on-screen with Doc. Absurdity reigns supreme in these shots.
Outside of that, the film is visually stunning. The film is set in the late 60s, and the cinematography feels like a product of that time, from the way it’s shot to the 70mm film stock. It nails the look of Los Angeles in a way that feels authentic from start to finish.
The film also pulls great performances from its broad cast. Joaquin Phoenix anchors the film as Doc, but it’s the broad supporting cast that really colors the film. Martin Short delivers the best performance he’s had in years as a coked-up dentist, while Josh Brolin goes from comedic to aggressive on a dime. Katherine Waterston especially makes an impression as Shasta, clearly in some ways still the object of Doc’s affection.
All that said, I can’t quite say Inherent Vice worked as a whole for me. At least not on first viewing. No film is intended for every single potential audience member on Earth, and this is one in particular that I’d imagine would prove frustrating for plenty of filmgoers. But if you can get over the film’s approach to tone over plot and you find the humor in the trailer appealing (or if you’re a fan of Pynchon’s book), you’ll likely find something to enjoy here. It’s a good adaptation.