“Inherent Vice” is the latest film from writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson. It is a crime story, a comedy, a drama and stoner flick all wrapped into one. It is chock full of humorous moments, vibrant characters and witty dialogue. Yet, as a whole, the film is incredibly lackluster and fails to deliver a coherent story. The parts do not make up for the whole.
The first half hour of the film is a cut-and-dry crime story. Private Investigator “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is recruited to investigate the disappearance of a land developer. This is last time you will get the luxury of coherence. From here on out, the film seems to be stuck in an infinite loop – Sportello would go on to spend fifteen minutes following one plotline…only to be sucked down a new one…sometimes to return to the old one…other times not. By the end of the film, nothing really comes together.
Near the end of the film, there is a significant moment that seems to be the focal point of the whole film, yet it has nothing supporting its inclusion in the film. This is the hallmark of “Inherent Vice.” It is almost a dozen-or-so short films loosely strung together with little in the way of a defined plot. This works to enforce the fact that Sportello and many of the other characters are drug addicts with serious debilitation. However, this is a dizzying storytelling tool that leaves a bad taste in your mouth and makes understanding the plot after one viewing nearly impossible. If your attention is on anything but the main story, you will become lost quickly and it will be a struggle to catch up.
The way the story was told was interesting, though it made comprehension difficult. As a novelty, this film holds merit. It is as if the story itself is another character with traits stolen from all the characters present. The story is as confused as Sportello is. It is as erratic as Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), a detective who works with and abuses Sportello. It is alluring in the same way that Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterson) is. The characters of “Inherent Vice” make up its story since there really is none. It is as if all of these characters are real and Anderson decided to follow them around with a camera and put together what were the most absurd, entertaining and enthralling scenes.
At the end of the day, if you are going to enjoy “Inherent Vice,” it is going to be for all of the wonderful characters. They are packed in from one end of the film to the other, sometimes appearing out of nowhere and only for a few scenes. Jade (Hong Chau), Penny Kimball (Reese Witherspoon) and Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd (Martin Short) are notable examples. Every character in “Inherent Vice” is unique. Just remember, if you pay attention to them, you won’t see the story that is spinning out of control around them.
Matt Whitney is a senior film production major. This review reflects the view of the writer only.