Review: Inherent Vice (2014)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #629

Number of Views: Two
Release Date: December 12, 2014
Sub-Genre: Neo-Noir/Crime Fiction
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $20,000,000
Box Office: $14,700,000
Running Time: 149 minutes
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Producers: JoAnne Sellar, Daniel Lupi, Paul Thomas Anderson
Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson
Based on Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
Cinematography: Robert Elswit
Score: Jonny Greenwood
Editing: Leslie Jones
Studios: IAC Films, Ghoulardi Film Company
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Katherine Waterston, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, Jena Malone, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, Joanna Newsom, Jordan Christian Hearn, Hong Chau, Jeannie Berlin, Michael K. Williams, Michelle Sinclair, Sasha Pieterse, Martin Donovan, Eric Roberts, Serena Scott Thomas, Yvette Yates, Jillian Bell, Andrew Simpson, Jefferson Mays, Keith Jardine, Peter McRobbie, Sam Jaeger, Timothy Simons

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] CAN “Vitamin C”

[2] Jonny Greenwood “Under the Paving-Stones, the Beach!”

[3] Jonny Greenwood “Spooks”

[4] Sly and the Family Stone “I Want to Take You Higher”

[5] Minnie Riperton “Les Fleur”

[6] Chuck Jackson “Any Day Now”

Would you like to know precisely what I learned from 149 minutes with Inherent Vice? That I really ought to read more. I kid you not, I don’t know whose dick I should be tugging the most rigorously right now as Paul Thomas Anderson (a filmmaker who could shit an ostrich egg and still make it worth sniffing) has just provided me with one of my all-time cinematic highlights, but I happen to know he was in cahoots with another all along. The rascally rapscallion in question is Thomas Pynchon, the kind of literary great who I’m assured crops up once, maybe twice in an average life cycle. Pynchon lines ’em up, Anderson knocks ’em down with the kind of eagle-eyed efficiency that could earn him a significant bounty on that wonderfully pulsating head of his. I’ve read a few reviews and dig what they’re saying and all. But I’ve always been more of a freebird myself if I’m honest and this beautiful little motion picture has more than earned its wings outta me.

Anyhoots, we could sit here and wax intellectual until the coke dries up, but I’ve got a far more cunning plan worked out for this one. You see, the best way to experience a movie like Inherent Vice is to live it, to smoke it, toke it and pass that shit around until such a point as we’re all doing the peace and love thing together. Of course, that will mean entrusting yourselves to your narrator and you can consider me a vessel for the next 2000 words give or take (most likely give) as I just met a brother from a whole different mother and he’s willing to take shit to an entirely different level for the paltry sum of our full and undivided. I can see that the suspense is killing you, so without further in the way of ado about nothing, I introduce you lucky lot to Larry “Doc” Sportello.

Bear with me a moment as there seems to be a temporary snag in the cosmic flow of the universe and I propose we see what our private dick has to say about it. What’s up Doc? Too much to even begin to unravel you say? Tell you what, catch yourself a breath or two there home boy, and while you’re at it, would you mind terribly washing those soot-encrusted feet of yours?

Jesus man, you smell worse than I feel just looking at your raggedy ass, and personal hygiene may have something to do with the fact that your sweet little Shasta Fay went on a boat ride in another man’s lake district. Actually, that may have been a tad harsh man, can we just hug it out and forget I just said that? I’d hate to dampen your vibe or anything as you seem so blissfully oblivious to the world around you and it seems a shame to play wrecking ball. Besides, that’s Bigfoot’s department.

That’s Det. Christian F. Bjornsen to the maggots. Sporting a crew cut so sharp you could use it to trim your conifers with, Bigfoot is pretty much 100% spam, so tightly compressed and thoroughly repressed that even his own face has no way of expressing itself, although give him time and you may just spot those cheek dimples, likely while he deep throats a chocolate-coated bananasicle like he knows damn well you desire a lick but ain’t looking to share the spoils.

However, don’t you go telling tales now, as if there’s one thing that makes Bigfoot’s dick and balls itch in unison, aside from his own little Bigfoot-in-training pouring his Scotch funny, it’s a low down dirty grass. Actually, anything whatsoever herbal makes his groin scream bloodless murder, and a giant lumbering lunkhead like Bigfoot is then left with one of two distinct choices. Make Doc’s pitiful life a living hell endorsed by the Bigfoot Foundation of hating on hippy scum for the sheer helluvit, or alternatively, continue to live his own in excruciating, vein-imploding silence. So what’s it gonna be Bigfoot?

Whoa there big guy, I think you could do with a little social conditioning. On second thoughts, perhaps you’ve had quite enough of that already. Let’s just get back to the banter and pretend like nothing happened shall we? I mean, poor Doc has a lot on his plate already, and the last thing he needs right now is some self-hating Sasquatch stomping down his front door and emptying his precious tray remnants in his mechanically munching maw. Mrs. Bigfoot must be one satisfied she-yeti, that’s all I’m saying. Not that any of that is relevant to the case at hand or should that be multiple cases Doc? Doc? LOOK OUT DOC!

Ouch. That’s gonna leave a bump I reckon. Even The Dude would have trouble abiding to such a sneaky lowdown maneuver. With such a backlog of private investigation to get through and barely a second spare to bust out the pumice stone, poor Doc doesn’t know whether he’s coming, going or wandering aimlessly through the middle ground. That’s not to say that all this intellectual foreplay hasn’t been quaint and mildly invigorating, but the whole kit and caboodle is only two consonants away from being rendered incoherent and that’s a vice too many in Doc’s book.

Perhaps Deputy D.A. Penny Kimball could shed some light on how to walk the line in an orderly manner. She seems to have her head screwed on tight, although nothing a few puffs on the doob won’t slacken in no time I’d imagine. Is it just me Doc or does it feel like your ships may have passed in the night previously? Just an observation, I may pitch in with one or two every now and then, just to ensure that we don’t become waylaid in all the excitement.

Penny may have a stick up her ass the length of one of Bigfoot’s banana delights, but slip off those nut-cracking heels and there are ten perfectly pedicured piglets just yearning to wrap themselves around your Johnson and tug it ’til the little fella squeals “momma”. If you play your cards right Doc, then perhaps she’ll file down some of that cracked skin on your heels and make it sexy.

Focus Doc focus, and above all else, beware of the Golden Fang. And watch out for Puck Beaverton while you’re at it. Man has no place messing with an immovable hunk of hell’s fury such as he, unless Bigfoot fancies putting in a shift any time soon and he’s far too predisposed ordering chow mein to give a rat’s ass or any of the pellets within for whatever harebrained scheme you may have concocted after a hard night on the groovy stuff. Speaking of which, when was the last time you had those teeth whitened old boy?

Mercifully Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd managed to shift around his 2.30 trampoline appointment to accommodate a quick flossing and has very kindly prepared the Novocaine in advance. In exchange for watching him exercise his right to have an outta control libido, Doc will be afforded a couple of toots from his magic stash, and if he’s dreadfully lucky, a sprinkle of under the counter information about the notorious Golden Fang Doc keeps hearing precious little about. Naturally, there is the small matter of hidden cost and it will set Doc back one excruciating white-nostriled joy ride to extract the molar so to speak. Should be a doddle, provided everyone can just manage to act normal so as not to arouse suspicion with the local law enforcement agency.

I’m not entirely convinced that she should be behind the wheel you know. After all, the swinging sixties just high-tailed off into the sunset, and with that deeply uncooperative Charlie Manson fellow potentially mincing around in the shadows, it’s only natural that the police will be on high alert. Perhaps it would be an idea to cut this particular joy ride short, dress up in your most inconspicuous burnt orange suit, and continue the remainder of your investigation on foot Doc. I’m sure that, if you keep your head down, Bigfoot won’t catch a whiff of your trail of Patchouli funk and we’ll have at least one of these umpteen cases cracked by the time you can say “I have to check the logbook”.

After you’re done, may I suggest heading over to Topanga Canyon to pay a visit to your old pal Coy Harlingen? Word on the street has it that Coy is living up to his name and lying low until this whole sorry mess blows over. Besides, I hear the dude plays a mean saxophone and there are few better ways to unwind than blowing one’s brass instrument. If nothing else, it should set you up nicely for Shasta Fay’s long-awaited homecoming.

See how you bonded? Immediately I can sense that the gloom has begun to lift and we’ll need you compo mentis once your fair lady washes back into your life on the low tide to confuse your already ridiculously over-burdened mind further. Just remember to keep your thoughts out of the gutter at all times, and whatever you do, don’t let her come hither eyes and thighs distract you.

Good job Doc. You just carry on with that awfully important phone call and ignore the sound of Shasta Fay slipping into something a little more comfortable. Hold on just a cotton-picking minute here, nobody said anything about the evening’s attire being the altogether. That’s just how God created her and the next time you speak to him during one of your acid flashbacks, remember to compliment him on a job bloody well done. If you’re fortunate, maybe he’ll help reorganize your vinyl into chronological order. 

Okay so I’m guessing there would be no harm or foul in a little optical eavesdropping but I must insist that you don’t allow her to rub your aching groin suggestively with her toes as that’s a recipe for disaster right there and you could really do without the ingredients right now Doc. Keep Captain Pecker chained and restrained and I’m certain she’ll lose interest eventually.

Well this is awkward. I’m fast running out of game plans here Doc and you seem far too preoccupied to focus on the task at hand so perhaps we should call it a day and see if it answers to it. Besides, somebody has to stay behind and get all this paperwork done. You’ve clearly got some catching up to do and your loyal sidekick Denis evidently has at least one of his hands full at present so that just leaves muggings here to mop up after you. Like Godzilla says to Mothra man, let’s go eat some place.

It’s hard to know where to possibly start with regards to the dazzling cast here as there are far too many scene stealing cameos to even hope to tally and every last one is bang on the moolah. Best we just say that everyone pulled their weight and leave it at that methinks. With that said, any house of cards cannot possibly hope to stand tall without strong foundations and the triple-pronged threat of Josh Brolin, Katherine Waterston and Joaquin Phoenix may well send those senses into hyperdrive.

The numerous exchanges between Brolin and Phoenix are truly immune to calculus and both men play their part exquisitely. Bigfoot is desperate to hate Doc’s squalid bones with every ounce of his bitter conviction and we’re every bit as frantic to see him relinquish all that bunched up childhood trauma and corporate conditioning just long enough to crack a solitary smile. Imagine being the undisputed world ping-pong champion and being forced to play rally after rally with the kind of stoner hippie who barely knows which side of the paddle to straddle. With each mounting frustration comes subtle appreciation and that’s about all we can expect from the big guy and a fair few hits besides.

Meanwhile, Waterson’s mesmerizing performance has precious cargo scrawled all over it. If Doc’s head is in cloud cuckoo land, then it would be all too easy to blame last night’s bender, where in fact, it is she that encourages him to soar so freely. Untouchable on one hand, she sporadically swoops in close enough to caress his innermost vulnerability, teasing it to the surface as though tooling him up for the next leg of this thankless quest. Does this mean they’re back together? Of course not. The truth is, they’ve never actually been apart.

Then of course we have our leading man, and if the Academy won’t recognize Phoenix’s mercurial turn, then I’ll save them the bother as I’ve seldom been so utterly spellbound in all my wasted years. It’s all there, from the most miniscule detail to his God-given affinity for gut-bursting slapstick. I shit you never, seldom in my entire cinematic lifespan have I laughed so loudly and heartily as I have in Larry “Doc” Sportello’s company.

However, when it is required of Doc to snarl, then Phoenix does so to the power of a thousand prowling panthers, whereas should melancholy be called for, then the tears run candidly in rivulets from his wide and bloodshot eyes. If ever a part was custom-built for user, then this is that very role and I will carry Doc’s every sweet nuance with me for as long as the tide rolls in thanks to Joaquin’s beautiful, heavenly soul.

In closing, Paul Thomas Anderson once stated that, for better or worse, Magnolia is the best movie he’ll ever make and it’s admittedly no minor mission outfoxing perfection. That said, he somehow manages to do just that, as Inherent Vice finds that very absolution without necessarily ever looking to locate it. His movie may dumbfound many unwilling to drink its curious tonic down in one gulp, but while as clear as the vodka you keep in your icebox, it’s every last bit as intoxicating.

With Pynchon’s cryptically ballistic prose running through every last frame by way of 1001 Technicolor streams, all that is left is for Anderson to play big brother’s keeper and he achieves this utterly instinctively. Better yet, he does so while still alerting us to today’s Pussy Eater’s special, which in itself, is a feat nothing whatsoever short of inherently mean. For 149 effervescent minutes of cinema at its uppermost sublime, his vices become ours too. At times, it’s dark and lonely work, but somebody’s gotta do it, right Doc?

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 10/10

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Read After Hours Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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  1. I love Anderson’s films. I can’t believe it took him this long to get his wife, Maya involved. One of the things that appeals to me about this film is the cast. I am so glad that Martin Short is back in action after the tragic loss of his wife, Nancy.
    The way you describe this flick is it seems a cross between Get Shorty and The Big Lebowski. Since Doc is sort of the laid back, fucked up mess like the Dude. Well done, Rich!

    1. You hit the nail right on the head Susan and I see a lot of The Dude in Doc. It’s such an extraordinary film but the critics focused too much on the fact that they couldn’t keep up with the multiple plots and didn’t realise that you’re not supposed to keep up. This one is all about the journey and some beautifully colorful characters. Like The Big Lebowski, it had me shedding tears of pure lactose and the leads are out of this world. In a perfect world, Phoenix would have claimed the best actor Oscar as he really is something else, as are Waterson and Brolin.

      I agree about Martin Short and it was so tragic about his wife. His part is absolutely priceless, true Mad Hatter stuff and a real scene-stealer. Likewise, neither Eric Roberts or Martin Donovan waste their moment.

      1. …and one more thing. Pynchon is a goddamn genius! Anderson went through his novel with a fine tooth comb and really put his all into honoring his legacy. It shows. One of my all-time favorite comedies and one I will watch again multiple times I’m sure.

      2. I do like Martin Donovan as an actor. Eric also knows how to take advantage of his time on screen. Waterston is really getting good buzz for Alien: Covenant. She is one of those acting scions from Sam Waterston.
        When you go to a Paul Anderson film, you are going to get multiple story lines, that is just the way it is. Critics are irritating sometimes because if it isn’t a linear storyline, it freaks them out. I can’t say I blame them because that is what the studios have been feeding the masses for years now.

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