Title: Inherent Vice

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Katherine Waterston, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Jena Malone, Eric Roberts, Michael K. Williams, Serena Scott Thomas and Christopher Allen Nelson

Not all creative and vibrant ideas or explorations into the possibilities of securing the happiest and most luxurious lifestyle possible are meant to last forever. That intriguingly relatable and important life lesson is enthrallingly presented in writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s new crime comedy-drama, ‘Inherent Vice.’ The movie, which had its world premiere this past October at the 52nd New York Film Festival, intimately exposes the fall of the bohemian lifestyle that Southern California thrived on during the 1960s. Through Joaquin Phoenix’s gripping reunion with the filmmaker, after they worked together on the 2012 drama, ‘The Master,’ the two the fascinatingly focused on the grim realization that not everyone will be able to retain the thriving personal success and contentment they were used to during more peaceful and complacent times.

Set in Los Angeles in 1970, ‘Inherent Vice,’ which was adapted from the 2009 book of the same name by Thomas Pynchon, follows Doc (Joaquin Phoenix), as he’s visited by his former girlfriend, Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston). Shasta is concerned about the man she’s having an affair with, real-estate mogul Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts). So she asks Doc to help stop Mickey’s wife, Sloane (Serena Scott Thomas), and her lover to have Mickey admitted to a mental health institution. Doc is then approached by Tariq Khalil (Michael K. Williams), who asks him to find another person associated with the Wolfmanns, Glen Charlock (Christopher Allen Nelson), who serves as one of Mickey’s bodyguards. Tariq claims that Glen owes him money after they served together in prison.

After Doc visits one of Mickey’s developments, he inadvertently becomes a suspect in Glen’s killing. One of the investigator’s nemeses, Detective Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), tells Doc that Glen Charlock has been shot, and Mickey has vanished. Doc is later visited by Hope Harlingen (Jena Malone), the wife of saxophone player Coy Harlingen (Owen Wilson), who wants Doc to look into rumors that Coy is still alive, despite the reports that he has died.

Doc ultimately tracks Coy to a nightclub, and when the two finally meet, the musician tells the investigator about the vessel, the Golden Fang. The boat is suspected of bringing mysterious goods into port, and Mickey and Shasta are believed to have been taken on board. Doc also discovers that Coy has been working for the government as an informer, but isn’t allowed to contact his family. So not only does Doc set out to locate his ex-girlfriend and her new lover, but also uncover the truth behind Glen’s murder, the Golden Fang and how to safely return Coy back to his family.

While the Academy Award-nominated Anderson deservingly received acclaim for his earlier films, including ‘There Will Be Blood’ and ‘The Master,’ the filmmaker determinedly and bravely set out to adapt Pynchon’s intense and intricate story to the screen. Although the writer-director ambitiously tried to interlace Doc’s three major cases with several minor subplots into the storyline of ‘Inherent Vice,’ the almost two-and-a-half hour comedy-drama unfortunately failed to maintain a clear objective and focus to solve one mystery before Doc delved into his next case. Doc’s struggles and antics to not only find out where Mickey really was and why he disappeared from society so suddenly and unexpectedly, but also find out why Mickey’s bodyguard was killed and the political underworld Coy was inadvertently pulled into were confusingly assembled, leaving viewers unfamiliar with Pynchon’s novel to question all of the character’s motivations.

While the story of ‘Inherent Vice’ becomes increasingly disjointed as each new character and situation was introduced, Anderson rightfully cast an intriguing, gratifying cast that satisfyingly portrayed the diversely unique and inventive situations they all found themselves in. Leading the engaging and enthralling cast was Phoenix, who was the natural choice to play the private detective. The performer effortlessly infused Doc with the suave and alluring personality the investigator needed to not only solve his cases, but also humorously comfort the families and friends who were emotionally invested. The Oscar-nominated actor also effortlessly offered a glimpse into Doc’s sensitive and caring nature of instantly wanting to help Shasta, even though she has long since moved on from their relationship, and they haven’t seen each other in years. While Doc also proves his caring nature by also wanting to uncover the truth about Hope’s seemingly deceased husband to help give the struggling wife closure, the investigator is grippingly presented as not having any qualms about antagonizing anyone who gets in his way of his goals.

The gripping performances and riveting exploration into the question of how far people are willing to go put their own lives in danger to protect others, especially those they don’t know, is powerfully emphasized by Robert Elswit, the drama’s talented cinematographer. Anderson’s frequent collaborator, who he also worked with on ‘There Will Be Blood,’ ‘Punch-Drunk Love’ and ‘Magnolia,’ truly understands the ever-changing and fully immersive mood, dynamics and emotions between the distinct characters. From the dark, isolating shots of Phoenix and Waterston when Shasta first asks Doc to help her find Mickey, which emphasize the growing emotional detachment between them, to the intimate close-up shots of Malone as she fondly recounts her relationship with Coy to the investigator when they first meet in her sentimentality decorated home, the skilled cinematographer naturally engaged the audience through his revealing camera set-ups.

But like its at-times flawed but well-meaning and engaging anti-hero, Doc, the story of ‘Inherent Vice’ superficially appears to be emotionally unfulfilling and confusing, as the needlessly long crime comedy-drama is fueled by unnecessary characters and plot elements. But upon closer examination, the film is mercifully saved by Phoenix’s natural understanding of Doc’s ease in helping others. Combined with Elswit’s insightful and reflective cinematography, which enthrallingly highlighted the true connections and motivations of all the characters, the crime comedy-drama intriguingly emphasized the life-affirming lessons Pychon included in his book. The most important lesson Anderson rightfully emphasized in the film is that all situations should be fully explored before any true judgments and decisions are made, particularly since that not everyone will be able to retain the thriving personal success they once had.

Technical: A-

Acting: A

Story: B

Overall: A-

Written by: Karen Benardello

Movie Review Inherent Vice

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By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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