New York Film Festival Review: Inherent Vice

(Re-posted from Limité

Joaquin Phoenix in INHERENT VICE

Series: Main Slate (World Premiere, Centerpiece Film)

Movies like this make me feel stupid. I should have known better. Paul Thomas Anderson has made a career on inaccessible, heady, and masturbatory films. No doubt, his work is nothing if not polarizing, but it’s always superbly crafted and will inevitably find its cheerleaders.Inherent Vice is no different. Mind you, it’s not that I don’t have a penchant for deeper, thought-provoking fare. I do. But Anderson has a tendency of dialing it up to eleven. (Before moving forward, I feel compelled to express that I usually make a point never to write reviews in the first person, but with this particular film, I find it difficult writing otherwise, simply because I admit to not understanding what this movie is about, so I’ll tell you how it made me feel.)

With the above admission in mind, I will say this about the plot: We meet private investigator “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) on the California coast, getting by in the late 1960s. After an old flame named Shasta Fay brings him a story about her wealthy land developer boyfriend and a plot against him, Shasta Fay, herself, goes missing, and Doc’s left to figure out where she is and whodunit. That’s about as much of the plot I could follow. This film, the first adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel, is supremely acted by an ensemble of Hollywood’s finest players, led by Phoenix and including Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Jena Malone, Benicio Del Toro, Owen Wilson, and Martin Short in supporting roles. Anderson’s longtime collaborator, cinematographer Robert Elswit, captures psychedelic ’60s California living with a dark, grimy palette, giving this noir the touch of grit necessary to transport audiences in terms of location and mindset. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to justify the rainy, four-hour wait in line outside Manhattan’s Walter Reade Theater that some press had just to see this film. (I wasn’t that stupid.)

There’s no doubt that this film will attract some—likely the same folks who were blown away by The Master (2012) or Magnolia (1999)—and it will likely find a place on some year-end top 10 lists. And despite my distaste for the storytelling in Inherent Vice, I will likely continue to keep an eye on Anderson’s career (call it masochism), because that’s what we do, right? We’re attracted to an auteur’s vision, even if we don’t understand it, because merely sitting in that theatre makes us feel smart. Unfortunately, that expectation fell short on me this time around. So after the screening was over, I headed across the street to get drunk on Guardians of the Galaxy, and now I feel better about myself.


Limité Rating: 3/5

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Jena Malone, Katherine Waterston, Benicio Del Toro, Owen Wilson, Eric Roberts, Michael Kenneth Williams, Martin Short, Maya Rudolph

Genres: Crime, Drama

Country: USA

Language: English

Runtime: 148 min.

The 52nd New York Film Festival runs from September 26 – October 12, 2014.


Follow Limité Senior Film Editor Daniel Quitério on Twitter (@dan_quiterio).


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