Inherent Vice is Paul Thomas Anderson’s film adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s confounding novel by the same name. As many other reviewers have already noted, it may be a better idea to focus less on the sporadic, twisted, and complex plot sequences and more on the pure absurdity of it all. More on that in a bit. There are several worthy performances here, including Joaquin Phoenix as Larry “Doc” Sportello, a pothead who doubles as a private investigator. Phoenix is admirable here but not nearly as interesting as The Master’s Freddie Quell. Martin Short’s turn as Rudy Blatnoyd, a cocaine-loving dentist is a highlight of the film, although he appears in only a scene or two. Most impressive is Josh Brolin as Detective Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen. Brolin breathes bizarre life into the most engaging character to appear over the film’s 148-minute running time.
The film does include two of the more amazing long shots in recent history. The first is a prolonged scene between Doc and his ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay. During the extended conversation, Shasta Fay slowly repositions herself until the scene takes an abrupt transition from conversation to intense sex scene. The second is a final visit by Brolin’s Detective Bjornsen. Doc shares his joint with Bigfoot after the detective knocks down his front door. Before the audience can make any sense of the scene, Bjornsen is eating Doc’s entire plate of weed. It’s the most surreal moment of a film filled with similarly unhinged moments.
In the end, any disconnect with the film felt more aligned to the eccentric characters and unorthodox story than it did with Anderson’s treatment of those characters and story. Even if that’s a cop out for our generation’s most highly acclaimed director, Inherent Vice feels like a step down from Anderson’s recent films (The Master, There Will Be Blood). Pynchon’s novels are meant to be disorienting, but I’m not sure this particular story was deserving of Anderson’s 35mm treatment of it. There’s something that does not feel right with Anderson adapting the stories of others when he’s proven his original screenplays are divine.