Inherent Vice is P.T. Anderson’s crack at stoner noir.
It’s Los Angeles, 1970, and Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is a private investigator. His ex-girlfriend approaches him about a kidnapping plot on her current squeeze, a billionaire, by his wife and her lover. The plan is to gaslight him into a loony bin and convince him to sign his wealth over. Sportello then heads on a one-man chase through three different cases that all intertwine at a cartel known as the Golden Fang. Through a haze of pot smoke, he encounters a trove of characters from rockers, burnouts and drug-crazed dentists to an LA detective who’s awkwardly mourning the death of his partner in embarrassing circumstances.
Anderson has proven himself as one of our era’s greatest auteurs, with There Will Be Blood and Magnolia both masterpieces of the last two decades. Inherent Vice is his approach to stoner comedy, mixing surf psychedelia, noir and black comedy with a Cheech and Chong aesthetic. With such a range of influences, it’s hard to know what this film is trying to be, and at many points it comes off like Anderson is badly attempting to make a Coen Brothers film.
The plot is a labyrinth of twine, with subplots abounding, and none of it making much sense. Characters drop in and out with no real purpose or even plot function, and their coincident interconnectedness never really rings home in the way a good whodunit should. While some performances stand out, such as Josh Brolin’s Detective Bigfoot, the characters offer little for an audience to care about, and are often not onscreen long enough for us to enter their worlds. Joanna Newsom oddly plays Sportello’s best friend and also the film’s narrator, but her character serves no purpose at all, other than to hang out with him at a few pointless moments. Also, at just under two-and-a-half hours, it becomes a cumbersome and often tiring watch.
The plot definitely thickens, but is seems this one does so in a haze of some really good weed.
Inherent Vice opens in cinemas Thursday March 12.