Inherent Vice – one big trip

Posted on 8 February 2015
By George Heron
  • Share:

Paul Thomas Anderson and Joaquin Phoenix combine once again after the success of Scientology parable The Master.

This time, they unite with an adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel, a mystery-filled thriller called Inherent Vice.

Not that thrills are the sensation of choice for this film-noire set mostly in broad daylight. It’s all about going with the flow 60s style, Man.

Private Investigator Larry “Doc” Sportello has a surprise visitor in the form of his ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (British starlet Katherine Waterston). She tells him of a money-making plot involving the abduction of a billionaire real estate developer, Michael Z. Wolfmann. Shasta hints that she is in danger and drives off.

‘Hints’ being an operative word. The camera looms closely to the faces of most of the talking characters. Doc smokes through most of the film and you start feeling high watching him as he pieces the clues together about the different shady individuals involved in the plot. Josh Brolin’s macho cop Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen scowls through his close-ups. Shasta evokes simultaneous eroticism and vulnerability.

The only time the camera isn’t close up is when Doc is discussing things with informant Coy Harlingen, a gentle performance by Owen Wilson, who softly whispers his useful information to doc at all times to keep things as secretive as possible.

Inherent Vice embraces sexuality fully, as the title suggests. A lot of the women don’t wear much and tease our protagonist seductively, even when he is questioning them as part of his job. This is the time of free love after all and doc himself dabbles with it a bit himself. The sexual tone even stretches to the symbolism of Bigfoot practically fellating his chocolate banana.

The beauty of the female part of the cast is not of the Hollywood stereotype, an unconventional beauty that adds to the authenticity of the tale. 54-year-old Serena Scott Thomas looks ravishing in her revealing swimsuit and would give most 20-year-olds a run for their money in the looks stakes.

The characters are played to perfection as you would expect from an Anderson movie.

Phoenix delivers the goods again as stoner Doc, whose pursuit of the truth remains true despite his drug consumption. Martin Short (3 amigos, Innerspace) turns up for a brief, eccentric cameo looking a lot like Martin Freeman in Hobbit gear, as does Martin Kenneth Williams from The Wire (whistling gangster robber Omar Little). Doc’s and Bigfoot’s interactions provide the majority of the comic relief.

It feels like one big trip yet there are no extraneous effects added to suggest hallucination or being high. Not Anderson’s most memorable journey, but one worth taking all the same.