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Inherent Vice (2014)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/28/2015

All Ratings out of


Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/27/2015

People will occasionally say that America is the land of second chances, and I truly believe in this. Save for a few very strict guidelines, I often dwell in a gray area when it comes to movies and attempt to be open-minded when I approach a new piece of cinema. I may not have liked the previous effort by the director, writer, or actor, but I'll give the new movie a shot, because there's always an exception to the rule. I took this attitude into Inherent Vice, as I'm no fan of Director Paul Thomas Anderson. But, I'd read that this movie was a departure of sorts, and I wanted to give him a second chance. Well, a sixth chance, but who's counting?

Inherent Vice takes place in the early 1970s. Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) works as a private detective, but he'd really rather spend most of his time getting high. Things change when his ex-girlfriend, Shasta Fay (Katherine Waterston) shows up and asks for his help. Doc can't say no to her, and he finds himself investigating the life of local developer Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts). This leads Doc into a web of Nazi bikers, drug smugglers, insane dentists, and bored housewives. During this, Doc has many confrontations with "Bigfoot" Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), an LADP detective who has a long history with Doc. As Doc gets deeper and deeper into the mystery, it becomes vague if he's doing this to get to the bottom of the situation or simply to see Shasta again.

Inherent Vice is based on a novel of the same name by Thomas Pynchon, and Anderson adapted the book for the screen. The story here lives at the intersection of two very different genres. On the one hand, this is a film noir, complete with a private detective, femme fatales, shady characters, crooked cops, and many twists. We even get film-noir-esque narration, but instead of it being provided by the detective, it's provided by Sortilege (Joanna Newsom), a close friend of Doc's. In true film-noir style, there are an abundance of red herrings (of sorts) and some mild action sequences. But, this is also a hippie/drug movie. Doc mumbles his way through the film and he's rarely without a joint. There's an odd flashback scene in which Doc and Shasta are desperate to get drugs. All of Doc's acquaintances are clearly anti-establishment, and there's a clear delineation between the shaggy-haired Doc and Bigfoot with this flat-top.

As far as mash-ups go, the hippie-noir is certainly an interesting way to go. Doc seems like the last person who should be solving crimes, as he often appears to have trouble paying attention and the notes which he scribbles are often vague. And yet, given his appearance and background, Doc is able to move within certain circles which gives him access to suspects and clues which others may not have been able to uncover. However, the mystery is merely the surface story here. Inherent Vice also looks at a turbulent time in America, which the hippie-love culture was straining to survive against the backdrop of things like the Vietnam War, Watergate, and civil rights issues. Doc and his kind have become a dying breed, and all of his good-will doesn't guarantee his survival.

But, the big question here is, what is Anderson able to do with this material? As noted above, I'm not a fan of Anderson's past works. He seems to pick interesting ideas, but the resulting films are often boring, self-indulgent, and focus so much on being "art" that they forget to be entertaining. Movies like The Master and There Will Be Blood are simply too long and talky for their own good. With Inherent Vice, Anderson sort of changes his style. At nearly 2 1/2 hours, Anderson proves that he still doesn't have any intention to shorten his films. The pacing of the movie ebbs and flows, and it wouldn't have hurt at all to tighten things up. The main problem here is that even with the film's clashing of genres, Anderson can't decided what other genres he wants to work in. Is this truly a mystery-thriller? Again, on the surface, it sort of looks like one. Is it a comedy? There are certainly some moments which are humorous, mostly involving Doc's reactions to odd things, but the film is never truly funny. Anderson never goes fully psychedelic here, but some scenes definitely have a dream-like feel.

Credit must go to Anderson for making a movie which looks like it was actually filmed in the 70s. (David Fincher tried something similar with Zodiac, but Anderson really succeeds here.) And kudos to Joaquin Phoenix for carrying the movie, as he's in nearly every scene. Phoenix is one of our most inscrutable actors, and it's difficult to tell here where he begins and Doc ends, but the performance is certainly believable. (The cast includes a handful of interesting cameos by familiar faces.) These high points aside, the inconsistency and length of Inherent Vice keep it from being a good movie. Having said that, I found it to be the most watchable film from Paul Thomas Anderson since Boogie Nights. It's not great, but I did want to see what happened next. So, it's interesting that the film went nearly unnoticed at the box office and didn't cause much of a stir at awards season. Patient filmgoers who are looking for something completely unique will find something to like here.

Inherent Vice has more fangs than a vampire movie on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no defects from the source materials. There is some mild grain here, but it's clearly intentional. The colors are slightly washed out (again intentional), and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good and some shots show nice depth. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. We get some nice stereo effects which show good separation. The surround effects come to pass during the few action scenes and some crowd scenes. The music sounds very good.

The only extras on the Inherent Vice Blu-ray Disc are a series of interstitials which run about 11 minutes. Titled "Los Paranoias", "Shasta Fay", "The Golden Fang", and "Everything in This Dream", each plays like a little trailer and focuses on a specific character or aspect of the movie.

Review Copyright 2015 by Mike Long