When private eye Doc Sportello's (Phoenix) ex-old lady suddenly shows up with a story about her current billionaire land developer boyfriend -- whom she just happens to be in love with -- and a plot by his wife and her boyfriend to kidnap that billionaire and throw him in a loony bin… well, easy for her to say. It's the tail end of the psychedelic '60s and paranoia is running the day and Doc knows that "love" is another of those words going around at the moment, like "trip" or "groovy," that's being way too overused, except this one usually leads to trouble.
With a cast of characters that includes surfers, hustlers, dopers and rockers, a murderous loan shark, LAPD Detectives, a tenor sax player working undercover, and a mysterious entity known as The Golden Fang, which may only be a tax dodge set up by some dentists, Inherent Vice is the seventh feature film from Paul Thomas Anderson and the first film adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel. The film is part surf noir, part psychedelic romp—all Thomas Pynchon.
'Inherent Vice' is a peculiarly zany anti-procedural that floats around like bong smoke. Wafting and wavering in the air, creating fuzzy images of barely perceived notions. It's such a trip, man. It's one of those movies where you sit back and wonder what you just watched, but have the inescapable feeling that you must watch it again right this very moment.
Beneath the hippie jive and drug use, Paul Thomas Anderson's screenplay – based on Thomas Pynchon's novel – requires some intellectual heavy-lifting to get through it. It's satisfying, because it never panders. There's never a moment where the movie lets up and helps us get our bearings, even during its most confounding moments. We're as lost as Doc (Joaquin Phoenix), a private eye who somehow barely functions in the real world. Constantly stoned, paranoid, and possibly hallucinating narrators, Doc finds himself knee deep in an enigma that I couldn't explain to you if I tried.
Even as one of Pynchon's most accessible novels, 'Inherent Vice' still manages to tread an unbeaten path. The noir feel is familiar. The case is familiar. The characters Doc meets along the way are familiar. But, there's just something about the wacky way everything melds together, that's genuinely original.
Like Anderson's 'The Master,' 'Inherent Vice' unfolds without providing viewers any sort of idea what to expect. Here's this seemingly ordinary guy, now what's he going to do? And it's simply fascinating to watch it all unfold.
The narrative is woven together from bits of a dream. I'm sure it's told chronologically, but honestly if you told me it wasn't I'd believe you. While its roots are firmly placed in the detective noir genre, 'Inherent Vice' bucks the standards whenever possible.
One night Doc is confronted by his beloved ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston) who regales him about a tale of her millionaire land developer boyfriend Wolfmann (Eric Roberts) who might be in danger. Shasta thinks Wolfmann's wife and new boyfriend might be planning to off him. Doc looks just as confused as I must, even after watching the movie a second time. Yet, dutifully Doc picks up the case because he can't tear himself away from those vivid memories of being with Shasta in the past.
None of the relationships in the movie would be described as conventional. Doc has a beef with Lt. Det. Christian F. "Bigfoot" Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), except there are times where you think that the two might actually love to hate one another. While Phoenix is as good as he always is, Brolin gives just as much to his straight-laced kind of dopey detective character. The two of them together create a dynamic on screen that is hard to beat with any twosome in any movie.
Take for example a scene where Doc and Bigfoot are driving together. Doc is in the background and in focus. Bigfoot is in the foreground, slightly out of focus. Oblivious to the world, Bigfoot is chowing down on a frozen chocolate banana. It becomes so grotesque that it appears Bigfoot is fellating the food, but he seems completely ignorant about it. All the while Doc is sitting there watching him contorting his face into subtle disgusted looks.
Phoenix is a master at the physicality of acting. He dives into a role. The physical comedy he performs here rivals anything Leonardo DiCaprio accomplished during the Quaaludes scene in 'Wolf of Wall Street.'
I'm equally in love with, and confounded by, 'Inherent Vice'. Anderson's direction is masterful, like always. The way he's able to find beauty in the drabness of 1970s Los Angeles is nothing short of a miracle. Every frame sizzles with a directorial acumen that is quickly being overshadowed by big, brash blockbuster direction.
'Inherent Vice' was one of my favorite films of 2014, and I'm still not entirely sure what's going on. That's okay though, because I'm not sure Doc knows everything that's going on either.
This is a 2-disc set, featuring a 50GB Blu-ray and a DVD. There's also a code for an UltraViolet Digital Copy provided. It also comes with a slipcover.
Shot on 35mm film, 'Inherent Vice' sports a wonderfully rich, full-bodied cinematic feel. This is now the exception rather than the rule. It's almost like being transported back in time. Seeing Anderson's stunning visuals conveyed with the lively texture of grainy film gives the movie a perfectly dated look that is essential.
The 1080p presentation faithfully presents the film with all its naturally lush grain. Even so detail is superb. Doc's wild facial hair is clearly discernable. You'll be able to see each and every one of his unkempt hippie hairs. Smoke wafting up from Doc's blunts is plainly defined, and provides some of the greatest visuals the movie has to offer. There just something about the smoke waving and floating in the air that allows you to understand just how good the movie looks in high-def.
Shadows are harsh, but it's because of the film's source, and not a problem with the transfer. Filming with real film, and the heavy grain, gives us nighttime scenes with very strong shadows. I'm sure that these scenes were purposefully shot this way, so I'm not going to chalk them up to problems with crush. I didn't notice any glaring technical snafus such as aliasing or banding either. This transfer is utterly true to its source, and provides one of the most filmic presentations you'll have the pleasure of seeing on Blu-ray.
I was equally impressed with Warner Bros.' DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, which pieces together a stunningly immersive listening environment. With Phoenix there will always be scenes where you're unsure if you should've heard whatever nonsense he might've been muttering under his breath. There are times where he whispers or mutters something and it's difficult to hear, but like the shadowy scenes bathed in darkness, those mutters are supposed to be difficult to decipher. Doc is a weird dude.
The rest of the movie's dialogue, even the whispered moments as Doc interviews people quietly in his officer or in murky alleyways, is intelligible. The rear channels are full of the movie's thumping '70s inspired soundtrack. Surround sound directionality also allows the rear channels to come to life during some of the more audio-filled moments like a huge house party.
Bass is also wonderfully produced here, especially during the various songs that thump their way through the movie's soundtrack. Like the video presentation, the audio provides another nearly flawless facet of this release.
Putting the shamefully meager special feature offerings aside, 'Inherent Vice' really is one of the best films 2014 had to offer. Anderson's detective story is immensely more interesting and consuming than most movies out there. Phoenix is one of the best actors around, and he's almost bested here by Brolin. There's no way around it, 'Inherent Vice' is really great. Throw in the fantastic audio and video and you've got a highly recommended release.