Film Review by Kam Williams
Joaquin Phoenix Plays Pothead Private Eye in Hippie-Era Whodunit
Dateline: Los Angeles, 1970, which is where we find Private Eye Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) living in a beach house with a view in a fictional, seacoast enclave called Gordita Beach. He’s totally wasted, but that doesn’t stop Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston) from approaching her ex-boyfriend for help with a personal problem.
Seems that the fetching femme fatale is currently the mistress of real estate magnate Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), and she has reason to believe that the philandering billionaire is about to be involuntarily committed to a mental institution by his vindictive wife, Sloane (Serena Scott Thomas), and her lover, Riggs Warbling (Andrew Simpson).
Against his better judgment, Doc takes the case, and soon finds himself swept into a seamy underworld filled with colorful characters ranging from a recently-paroled black radical (Michael Kenneth Williams) to an avowed white supremacist (Christopher Allen Nelson) to the proverbial prostitute with the heart of gold (Hong Chau). After being conked on the head, Doc comes around in a police station where he learns that he’s the prime suspect not only in the disappearance of both Mickey and Shasta Fay, but in a murder to boot.
So unfolds Inherent Vice, a surreal whodunit far more concerned with recreating the feel of the post-Sixties’ daze of free-flowing drugs than with crafting a compelling crime thriller. Unfortunately, the absence of a credible plotline means the premise soon dissolves into a rudderless, meandering mess, reducing the viewing experience to enjoying the retro décor, fashions and slang of the period.
The picture was directed by five-time Oscar-nominee Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights and Magnolia), who also adapted the script from the Thomas Pynchon best-seller of the same name.
The film does feature a few standout performances, most notably, Joaquin Phoenix in the starring role, and Josh Brolin as a hard-nosed LAPD officer. Otherwise the production makes precious little use of the services of its cluttered, A-list cast which includes Academy Award-winners Reese Witherspoon (for Walk the Line) and Benicio del Toro (for Traffic), and Oscar-nominees Eric Roberts (for Runaway Train) and Owen Wilson (for The Royal Tenenbaums).
An unstructured, atmospheric affair ostensibly designed to appeal to folks nostalgic for the hedonistic hippie era.
Good (2 stars)
Rated R for profanity, violence, sexuality and graphic nudity
In English and Japanese with subtitles
Running time: 148 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers